Schools across the state are facing new challenges thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, but there are unique hurdles for Arizona State School for the Deaf and the Blind, which serves students in Tucson and across the state.
The school has faced three major challenges, according to Tucson campus Principal Kelly Creasy.
The first challenge Creasy identified was delivering learning materials to students living across the state, such as in Kingman, Tuba City and Lake Havasu.
“Whereas a local school could just have a pickup day, we had to deliver equipment and materials to students across the state,” Creasy said.
Another challenge Creasy identified was simply getting students connected to the internet when many live in remote locations. While the organization is providing hotspots for students, they don’t always work in all locations
The third challenge is delivering specialized instruction virtually. Virtual instruction creates a lot of barriers to more personalized teaching methods. For example, if an instructor cannot see what a blind student’s hands are doing, it’s difficult to help them through math problems on their tactile materials.
To make learning easier, the school is taking steps to meet students’ individual needs. This includes providing a lot of visual support to deaf students, including access to videos and similar materials. It also involves ensuring strong audio connection for blind students, while outfitting students who have some vision with appropriate technology. Other materials such as BrailleNote Touches, which are essentially braille computer tablets for the blind, are also being sent out to students who need them.
The school is also breaking up the day as much as possible and providing both offline and online instruction and activities to maintain the attention of students, while keeping classes small for more focused, individualized instruction.
“Everybody is adapting as best they can and being as flexible as we can be with families and supporting them in as we know how,” Creasy said.
Although students may face challenges in virtual learning, Creasy believes that they are adapting well.
“I think it’s difficult for all students,” Creasy said. “They crave that social interaction, they crave that time with their teachers but I think our students are doing pretty well with it. They’re doing the best that they can.”
The success of students goes hand-in-hand with effective adaptation of the school faculty. In facing the challenges, Creasy said that the teachers have been phenomenal.
“We did a ton of professional development,” Creasy said. “We brought teachers back three weeks before we brought kids back just so that they can have that opportunity to learn some additional skills. They have been phenomenal, they are out-of-the-box thinkers, they are making it work, they are getting very creative.”
Despite the difficulties with virtual learning, the Arizona State School for the Deaf and the Blind has fostered success in the independent learning abilities of students. This includes helping them develop skills that they may have not developed otherwise, such as making videos and navigating technology independently. As Creasy puts it, they have learned how to be their own “tech support.”
“The skills are going to serve them well for the rest of their lives,” Creasy said. “These are skills that we now know are critical in the workplace.”
A major goal of Creasy’s for the school is to maintain a meaningful level of student engagement going forward.
“As this goes on longer, that becomes harder,” Creasy said. “I think the novelty wears off so I think really making sure our level of rigor is at where it should be and that we are still engaging students in a meaningful way.”