Director Sharon Fogle was on hand the first day of school as Los Alamos Online Learning Academy students drove by to greet teachers and pick up materials. Photo Courtesy LAPS
While many parents and students have chosen to learn remotely this fall until schools can transition to a hybrid model and potentially, to five days a week in person learning, some families opted for a new school opportunity this year: the Los Alamos Online Learning Academy (LAOLA).
These families will continue online learning throughout the school year. The new school, headed by Dr. Sharon Fogle, has approximately 350 students enrolled in kindergarten through 8th grade. There are currently two teachers per grade for K – 6, one 7th grade teacher and one 8th grade teacher. The school also offers a full range of support services for special education and guidance. For grades 9-12, LAPS has an online option called Topper Virtual Academy headed by Ms. Renee Dunwoody. TVA is designed to provide a solid path to high school graduation.
In a letter to families, Dr. Fogle said, “Whether your decision was based on safety, convenience, flexibility or consistency, we want you to know that we are committed to your child’s physical, social, emotional and academic well-being.”
Dr. Fogle recently shared more details about the new school and the differences between remote learning and the goals of the Online Academy.
What drew you to accepting the position of Director of the Online Learning Academy?
Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” I believe that statement sets the vision for the Online Learning Academy. As schools began to adjust their programs to deal with the current health crisis, I saw an opportunity to work alongside the district leadership to create a unique educational experience for the students and families in our school community that would offer both quality and consistency. Our goal at the Academy is for our students to learn and thrive. We are committed to accomplishing this goal by remaining focused and keeping it simple.
What is the difference between the current remote learning and the Online Learning Academy?
Right now, all students in the district are being taught remotely. The biggest difference between the two types of schools will become more apparent when the traditional schools reopen for in-person attendance. The Academy will follow the same instructional model every day throughout the school year. This gives our teachers and students the ability to focus on developing highly effective strategies for teaching and learning in the online environment.
How does the Online Learning Academy work?
Students attending the Academy participate in two types of learning experiences. We refer to them as synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous learning occurs at the same time, but not in the same place. During synchronous instruction, students learn from their teacher or peers in real-time. For the Academy, teachers and students use Google Meets for conducting face-to face learning experiences. Aside from Morning Announcements, this type of instruction is generally delivered in 15-20 minute segments with small groups of students. Synchronous instruction is scheduled in the mornings and averages between 1-2 hours depending on the grade-level.
The other type of instruction, asynchronous, is learning that occurs not only in different locations but also at different times. During asynchronous instruction, students learn by watching pre-recorded video lessons, email/chat exchanges between teachers and students, online discussion boards, completion of independent practice assignments, etc. Academy teachers use SeeSaw (K-1) and Google Classroom (2-8) to organize and manage asynchronous learning. Asynchronous learning is designed to take place in the afternoons or evenings depending on family schedules. Students may spend an additional one to three hours completing independent learning activities each day.
The Academy has three different schedules based on grade-level but they all have the same daily beginning, ending, and break times. To further help families, our schedule is the same every day of the week, Monday through Friday.
What experience do you bring to your new position?
This is my 35th year as a K-12 educator. Throughout my career, I have taught in a variety of grade levels, subjects, and settings. In my most recent role as an instructional coach for Los Alamos Public Schools, I have worked with teachers to focus on improving instruction through the design and implementation of learning targets. Learning targets help teachers break content into small chunks so that they can create activities that engage students in learning targeted skills that are assessed at the end of the lesson. Even though online learning is a new format for many teachers and students, the principles of effective teaching and learning remain the same. I look forward to working with our teachers as we implement these principles into our online classrooms.
How are things going so far?
Every day, I receive messages from our families like this one expressing gratitude that LAPS is providing this option for their students.
“My kids are enrolled in LAOLA. Things are going so much better this year than I could have possibly expected. The teachers are organized, they keep the kids engaged, and the technology is working well, it is great! “
We appreciate the support and encouragement that we are receiving from our students and families. It is a privilege to partner with the families in our community as we work and grow together to help our students learn and thrive.
Do you see the Online Learning Academy as part of the future of LAPS or just something for this year as we deal with the pandemic?
In many aspects our story closely resembles the story of our community. The community of Los Alamos was created by individuals who came together to work on a project to address a specific national security crisis. Because of their collective expertise and pioneering spirit, they were successful in eliminating that threat. However, the innovations and discoveries that have continued to take place at Los Alamos National Lab over the past seven decades have long surpassed the goals of that initial mission.
The pandemic may have brought us together, but our goal of providing every student with an opportunity to learn and thrive is the foundation of our purpose for the Los Alamos Online Learning Academy. After the current health crisis is over, we believe that the Academy will continue to provide the students and families of LAPS with another choice for receiving a high quality education.
What makes the Los Alamos Online Learning Academy stand out from other online education options?
The things that make Los Alamos Online Learning Academy stand out from other online education options is our teachers and students. The daily learning program for each student attending the Academy is designed and delivered by a highly qualified teacher who lives and works in our community. These teachers have access to the same resources, training, and support that are available to every Los Alamos Public School teacher. Along with the strong relationships that students are able to have with their teachers, the Academy also provides an opportunity for students to connect and form friendships with their peers who live and share many of the same experiences and values found within our community.
The roadrunner was chosen for the Los Alamos Online Learning Academy mascot because it is an animal unique to New Mexico just as our school is unique to LAPS. Furthermore, the roadrunner symbolizes intelligence, courage, and the ability to face dangers and difficulties with a positive attitude.
The original artwork for our logo with the phrase “defying expectations” was created for our school in memory of an individual who exemplified the spirit and passion of the roadrunner and the fulfillment of our school mission.
“Our goal remains the same: to ensure that all of our students are learning and have the same opportunity to thrive,” Dr. Fogle said.
Supt. Kurt Steinhaus said: “I am pleased that we can offer this high-quality option for LAPS students and parents. This is one more example of our goal to provide flexibility for parents and student-centered options for children. Let’s all say thank you to Dr. Fogle for leaning in and taking this new and exciting challenge.”
For more information, check out the Los Alamos Online Learning Academy website: https://sites.google.com/laschools.net/los-alamos-online-learning-aca/home?authuser=0