Elijah and Tiffany Matthews and family

How ASU Prep transitioned its students to remote learning during school closures

By

Hannah Moulton Belec

As the spring 2020 semester recessed for spring break, Arizona K-12 students and parents contemplated how the academic year would continue and conclude as news of possible school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic began to surface.  

By the end of the break, it became clear that school wasn’t reopening as planned. What that meant for learning took weeks to unfold in many schools, with connectivity and accessibility to devices being limited for many students. 

But for the more than 3,000 students at ASU Preparatory Academy’s five campuses across Arizona, classes resumed on March 16, as scheduled. While physical school sites remained closed, ASU Prep students reconnected with their teachers and peers within a remote learning environment. 

Tiffany Matthews is the parent of a rising senior at ASU Prep Phoenix. She said the transition was seamless for her son Elijah. He had his school-assigned laptop that he’s had since the beginning of the year, instruction started right away and students were already familiar with the technology of Zoom and Canvas, among other things. 

“The school was ahead of it,” said Matthews. “It was a smooth transition. … It was quick. There wasn’t any kind of crazy learning curve.”

Sixteen-year-old Elijah has been attending the school since seventh grade. Matthews said the family was drawn to ASU Prep because of the smaller class sizes, more personal attention and the charming campus feel. Her oldest child is now in the Marines, and her youngest two attend other area schools.

Matthews and her husband’s family business had been transitioned to their home in Laveen starting in March, but Matthews was relieved that Elijah was able to get into a routine with coursework right away.

Elijah said that he liked the flexibility of remote learning and the opportunity to customize his learning experience while completing his assignments online. 

“I feel like it’s easier to keep up with work just because everything is online,” he said. “It’s not like we have papers to lose or anything and we pretty much have unlimited access to everything we need.”

His daily routine started by logging in at 8:15 a.m. for class followed by a lunch break from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. He did other schoolwork until about 3:15 p.m., a mix of live lessons and check-ins to make sure work had been submitted. Class took the form of Zoom rooms and breakout chats with students. His favorite project so far has centered around robotics.

“I have an online robotics class. Right now we’re making a game,” he said. He coded a Galaga-like game, but he “put a little twist to it.” 

Though Elijah misses his friends, he stays connected with them through SnapChat and Xbox. At school he’s been involved with photography and design for yearbook, and next year he plans on playing football.

“It’s my last year. I want to make a statement,” he said.

The Matthews family was able to connect right away because they had fast internet and devices available, including the Chromebook assigned to Elijah. But not all ASU Prep families had access to the technology and connectivity they needed to continue learning. Nationally, an estimated 12 million students don’t have access to the internet. 

ASU Prep’s Director of Information Technology Karina Jones said that ASU Prep was able to support 100% of their more than 3,000 students with the tools and technology required to continue their online education during the pandemic. Their one-to-one technology for students enabled each student to take home a Chromebook. For families without connectivity at home, ASU Prep purchased a total of 95 hotspots that were distributed based on need to families across the East Valley and Casa Grande. 

Jones said the transition was smooth because the schools already incorporate technology at their core. They value applications and don’t have printed textbooks. 

“Our whole operation is technology based,” Jones said. “(Students and families) were already used to the technology.”

The schools were able to seamlessly shift to online learning also because of the infrastructure of ASU Prep Digital, an online high school that offers local and global high school students a rigorous and flexible high school experience with the option to take concurrent college courses. Jones said many ASU Prep students already take concurrent college coursework through ASU Prep Digital. 

“Because ASU Prep Digital is an integral part of the ASU Prep network, we were able to work in tandem to prepare for the transition to a digital environment,” said Julie Young, deputy vice president of Educational Outreach and Student Services and managing director of ASU Prep.

Young said both the technology and the people who support students year-round were available for ASU Prep families when they were needed.

“Our digital team could anticipate some of the needs that students and teachers would have, so they designed training for teachers, along with support systems for students and parents to answer questions, ease fears and build community,” Young said.

Jones said that as a mother of a young child herself, she identifies with the families who are still working and struggling to maintain a routine and keep their students’ skills progressing.

“ASU Prep is giving our families the opportunity to continue education and not have any disruption. We are offering the opportunity to do live instruction and assignments in the comfort of their home,” she said. “This in a way keeps their kids’ routine going with minimum disruption.”

Students are continuing to learn this summer through ASU Prep Digital summer enrichment opportunities. Learn more and sign up through ASU Prep Digital.