class room

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the education system, as we know it, on its head. Facing this pandemic and the uncertainty it brings, school administrators are tasked with far more than just getting students educated. Logistics, communication, and organization must keep the school system running, families informed, and students on track with changes happening on an ongoing basis.

With infection rates soaring, school doors have been in somewhat of an “open and closed” situation the past year. Students have been back in an online learning environment since January. While some students flourish in this setting, many struggle.

To help cope with obstacles that prevent many students from turning in their best academic performance during this different learning model, teachers make themselves available for hours far past the typical school day.

PHS principal Jeff Simon says that every teacher is giving far more than what they are being paid to do for their students to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to succeed.

“They are creating tutoring times well into the evening. It puts me at ease, knowing that we have such teachers that are willing to go above and beyond,” says Simon.

Coming at an ideal time for the world we now find ourselves, the education system in Payson as a whole has become far more integrated and customizable. Students have options to select what best suits their style of learning, schedules, interests, and life. Students can choose to build their school experience by selecting between in-person and online learning, selecting the high school, the Center for Success, or mixing classes between the two campuses.

“What’s nice is that we are now all going to be one school; we have more options for students,” Simon explains.

“I think it’s going to be an excellent option for kids; just how they learn. We can narrow down on a specific student and give them what they need to succeed, and take care of them from there.”

One of the trickier parts of the recent school experience to navigate has been those offerings that cannot easily translate to an online classroom setting. Such programs include the automotive program, agriculture, STEAM, sports, PE, and other hands-on or labor-intensive courses. During the strict shutdown, these programs had to make do the best they could with virtual learning modalities, but have had a bit more leeway now that the On-Site Support Services (OSSS) program at the schools has opened back up. This program allows for staff to meet on a limited basis with students to meet specific needs.

Support organizations outside of the school system are championing the cause as well. The local non-profit Aspire Arizona Foundation has been working overtime during this difficult season to ensure that students are getting the support they need to weather through, often meeting to brainstorm how to help. The MHA Foundation-funded AVID program now boasts 3/4 of the high school freshman in the program focused on teaching college and career-minded skills that supplement their academic lessons to steer them forward toward post-graduation success. All of these goals thankfully remain on course, regardless of the pandemic.

While the future obstacles for the district remain unclear, learning is still very much a go. Teachers are working harder than ever and are available to assist students in whatever way they can. Those with specific needs can reach out to their schools to inquire about on-site support services available and how to access them.

“We are using numbers and data to make decisions, not just knee jerk reactions,” Simon says pragmatically, understanding that there is still a lot of mixed emotion from families under strain from school closures. Principal Simon states that shortly a newsletter will be sent to the community members describing, “what the high school has to offer its students.” The goal is to affirm and thank the town for their support of the schools during this difficult time.

“We don’t take it lightly,” he says. “We want to make sure we are doing the very best that we can with the trust that the community has given us and the resources they provide us.”

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