Palisades Charter High School Works to Support Students Through the Pandemic
By LILY TINOCO | Reporter
In March 2020, Palisades Charter High School closed its campus in response to the COVID-19 pandemic—but nothing could have prepared students, teachers and faculty for what lay ahead.
Teachers and administration had to quickly pivot normal operations and adapt to a new and unfamiliar environment: distance learning.
Despite the challenges, Pali High has been determined to provide its students a valuable experience.
Pre-pandemic, Principal Dr. Pamela Magee described Pali High as a high-energy environment with a lot of social interaction among its nearly 3,000 students. On campus, students had the opportunity to participate in clubs, meet directly with their teachers and engage with their peers.
“I don’t think any of us thought we would have to, within days, switch to a different form of learning,” Magee said to the Palisadian-Post. “We were all 100% on campus and then suddenly we were 100% trying to conduct school virtually.
“The big changes that have happened since … COVID is trying to do as many of these things and normalizing them as much as possible in a virtual environment.”
Magee said the school has proven to be adaptable, resourceful and compassionate.
“It’s a real leveler … we’re all starting from ground zero on how to respond to something like this, learning to work together to find solutions,” she said. “We’ve absolutely learned to listen to each other and be collaborative in finding solutions and approaches that are going to work for everybody.”
Teachers shared the ways they have tried to build connections with their students, something they found to be more important than ever, and admittedly a lot more difficult to do via Zoom.
“At least when we left in March, those were six-, seven- … month-long relationships that had been built … going into this year, we didn’t have that,” study skills and Spanish teacher Laura Vladika said. “That was a huge challenge right away, how do we build relationships with students without being in the same room as them? How do we be as engaging and thoughtful and caring and supportive when we’re outside of the four walls that a school gives?”
Vladika said being sincere, genuine and vulnerable have been key in staying connected: “It helps humanize this digital world.”
Vladika said it was often the short conversations during passing period, lunch, and before or after school that would do the most to build and maintain meaningful relationships with her students.
About a month into the current school year, she learned the quickest and best way to replicate these interactions was during the 15-minute break between classes.
“I always stay on our class Zoom for a bit after the period ends … this small act has forged so many strong bonds with students,” she explained. “Getting one-on-one or small group time with me has been such a comfort for many students. Teaching and learning is always at the forefront of what we do, but this year the social-emotional component has been especially important as well.
“Letting students know that I care about them in a sincere way sets the stage for learning to happen.”
The school has also found a number of silver linings in the transition to remote instruction during the pandemic: growth and equity.
Teachers have found that students are becoming better problem-solvers, and with everything available online, are also more involved.
Magee said there are more people than ever participating in board meetings, and Pali High’s ASB and Leadership Advisor Robert King said students are noticeably more active in student government—helping students and families stay connected and informed with what’s going on within the school.
“We serve such a broad community, with kids coming from more than 100 zip codes throughout Los Angeles … LA traffic is a real challenge and the Palisades is off the beaten path for many of our families, now it’s as easy as logging in if you’ve got a Zoom link,” Magee said. “We want to bring our school community together, now that we’ve learned how, I don’t see us stopping that.”
Teachers have noticed that Pali High’s students are also learning valuable skills, some they probably wouldn’t have learned until later in life.
Pali Academy Coordinator Kimberly Theard said she has witnessed students mature and become independent learners over the course of the pandemic. Pali Academy is a program at Pali High that generally offers students a smaller, more comfortable learning environment.
“Initially I thought, ‘How would this work?’ Because we’re so hands-on in the program, but the students have really stepped up,” Theard said. “They’re learning all themselves and if they can persevere through this, graduate and meet their goals, they are definitely prepared … to meet all their future goals.”
Theard added the academy has helped acquire community resources to support its students since March 2020, including technological devices for distance learning.
Through Pali Cares and the help of donations from families and organizations, Pali High’s families have also been offered additional support. Theard said the pandemic has helped her better understand and identify the needs of more families.
As students continue through the rest of the current school year, teachers would like to remind students they are cared for.
“I don’t know one educator in our school that is not just spending so much of their time concerned about not just the curriculum, but the hearts of all of our students out there,” Pali High’s Virtual Academy Coordinator and AP English teacher Randy Tenan-Snow said. “We care about them and we think about them and are concerned for all of their happiness.”
And many teachers want to remind students there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
“The efforts of our teachers and entire school community to ensure a safe and effective academic program for all students has been nothing short of heroic,” Magee said. “I am grateful for the support of our parents and optimistic Pali High will build on the many positive lessons learned during this historic pandemic into the future.
“Stay positive, there is hope on the horizon … we will be back in a normal environment very soon.”
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