As California’s more than 6 million K-12 students transition to distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, schools throughout the state are working to create programs that meet the educational needs of students. In this effort, Oxford Preparatory Academy (OPA) in Orange County stands out for the breadth and quality of its remote learning program.
OPA is a TK-8 public charter school, composed of two campuses: Oxford Preparatory Academy-South Orange County (in Mission Viejo) and Oxford Preparatory Academy-Saddleback Valley (in Lake Forest). Well before the school’s dismissal of students on March 16th, OPA administrators and teachers began developing a contingency plan for distance learning.
As a result of their foresight and quick planning, OPA’s more than 1400 students are benefiting from a high-quality learning experience. While some schools may select one method of instruction, OPA’s dynamic instructional program includes whole class, group and individualized sessions using Zoom, Google Classroom and online tools that accompany the curriculum. OPA’s dedication to connecting families with excellent teachers and the community is owed to frequent communication with families and students, staff planning and collaboration, as well as strong leadership at the organizational and site level.
“With the threat of COVID-19-related closures looming, our team worked diligently to create a robust learning program that delivers high-quality education using a variety of online platforms,” said OPA Executive Director Jill Marks. “Fortunately, OPA students already utilize a wide array of mobile educational tools which facilitated the shift away from in person instruction in a mere matter of days. I am proud of the quality of education and resources we are delivering during this unique time in history.”
OPA’s plan not only provides for academic development. “It was important to us that our students not lose instructional time. However, the most important concern was that our students remain connected and have some consistency during this frightening time. That’s why we moved so quickly to create and implement our remote learning program. We certainly don’t have all of the answers, but we continually tweak the program and incorporate parent, staff, and student feedback to make sure it is working as well as possible for everyone,” stated Dr. Amy Kernan, Ed.D., the organization’s Chief Academic Officer. “We want to continue to improve and share ideas not only within our organization, but across the state and the country. There are millions of students affected by this crisis, and if we have ideas that could help other schools, we want to open up dialogue.”
For their part, OPA families are praising the school's efficient shift from in person to distance learning.
Brandy Matthews, a mother of three OPA students said the following of her experience, “Distance learning has been wonderful for my kids during these last few weeks. The staff and teachers have done an amazing job of keeping my kids engaged, learning and giving them something to focus on. They have also loved getting to "see" their friends and teachers during their Zoom sessions. I have loved that they have some sort of normalcy during this time of uncertainty and it is a way for them to still feel connected to their school. I am so grateful to OPA for continuing their education online.”
Amy Hitzler, a teacher at an independent study school and parent of four OPA students stated, “I am so pleased with the remote learning provided to my children from OPA. The OPA staff was prepared and ready to go so quickly and I feel like my children haven't missed a beat. The teachers laid out a daily schedule that is easy to follow and is just the right balance of instructional time and independent practice each day. My children really miss their teachers and classmates so the virtual classrooms are their favorite time of the day. I really appreciate how creative, organized and engaged the teachers are in delivering quality instruction during this challenging time. Once again, OPA has exceeded our expectations!”
"It takes dedication and teamwork for all of us to keep things running in this environment and you have been the people for the job! Not only was the transition fast and fairly seamless but I can see the work that my son is doing. I have been visiting his desk during instruction time on and off and the work appears to be very similar to what was being completed prior to disruption. 5 stars for delivery on what cannot have been an easy transition on the organizational and instructional side," said Sheila Siegel, a parent at the Saddleback Valley campus of her son’s distance learning experience.
OPA is also working hard to ensure that it is meeting the needs of its students with disabilities by finding innovative ways to deliver special education services remotely. “Students are still receiving all services, including speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, psychological services, individual and group counseling, and even adaptive physical education through Zoom. Our special education team has done an amazing job using technology to not only continue to provide services, but to even improve the effectiveness of some services,” stated Amy Kernan.
Renee Snyder, the parent of two OPA students explained, “We have been impressed with how quickly our teachers have been able to acclimate to online learning and how quickly the kids have adapted. Learning at home is definitely different and new for all of us. The kids miss seeing all of their friends and their teachers. Zoom has been a nice way for the kids to connect in some way, and it has been a great tool that has allowed the teachers to continue teaching the kids in this new environment. I am grateful for the committed group of administrators, teachers, therapists, and our incredible one-on-one aide that are continually adjusting and modifying our schedules to make the most impact on the daily education that our kids receive. This has been a new approach and we appreciate the commitment to making sure this new process is not just working but is a success.”
To provide parents with resources during this time, OPA has also dedicated a page on its website to COVID-19 resources and information. The page includes a COVID-19 hotline for parents, resources for distance learning, information on meal services, locations providing childcare for essential workers and first responders, information videos, and OPA Technology Support.
Like all schools throughout California, out of an abundance of caution for health, welfare and security, OPA’s two campuses will remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.
OPA is a TK-8 public charter school, composed of two campuses: Oxford Preparatory Academy-South Orange County (in Mission Viejo) and Oxford Preparatory Academy-Saddleback Valley (in Lake Forest). The campuses stand out among educational institutions for their high academic achievement and their implementation of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences as part of instruction which challenges the idea of a single intelligence and postulates there are multiple ways to process information.