Amanda Aragon

Eighteen weeks ago, our students did not board the bus and arrive at school like most Mondays.

March 16 was the first day New Mexico school buildings were closed, a temporary closure later extended through the academic year. In those first weeks, we saw many districts across New Mexico, including Rio Rancho Public Schools, quickly put together plans to transition to online learning.

It was unexpected and unprecedented.

Here we are, 128 days later, preparing once again for closed school buildings and online learning, only this time we do not get to use the excuse that it was unexpected.

We knew school might start in a virtual environment and that the year would likely include periods of 100 percent virtual instruction.

Why does it feel like we are just as unprepared?

Following the lead of Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces, the RRPS school board voted on Monday evening to begin the 2020-21 school year in a 100-percent remote model. Hybrid instruction will begin after Labor Day, pending public-health orders.

As unfortunate as it is, this is reasonable, given the multitude of public-health variables. Monday’s announcement adds more stress to parents, families and educators.

According to RRPS plans posted online, virtual instruction will look similar to the district’s hybrid plan. One cohort of students will receive instruction online via Google Meet two days a week, and will have assignments to complete in Google Classroom the other three days.

Said differently, students will only receive instruction 40 percent of their school week. The other 60 percent of will be self-paced practice and assignment completion.

Parents also can opt into 100-percent online instruction for the entire semester, with which middle and high school students will complete assignments on the Edgenuity platform with no live instruction.

In reports released by the Legislative Finance Committee and the Legislative Education Study Committee, experts noted that New Mexico students may have lost three months to a year of learning as a result of school closure.

Counteracting these impacts will take a huge effort from our communities. School districts need to prioritize daily quality instruction, access to devices, parent communications, check-ins with students and more.

Our community needs to bring everything we have to the table: available space for day care and flexible learning, volunteers and constant adherence to health orders to reduce community spread. The federal government needs to provide additional education stabilization funds and immediate action to increase broadband.

Our state leaders need to provide clear guidance around virus testing and public-safety measures, as well as rigorous minimum educational standards.

RRPS has made progress in addressing some of these challenges. The district committed to provide a Chromebook to every student and has an application for households who need assistance with internet access.

They have prioritized parent communication by hosting Parent University meetings to walk through plans.

We need to ask ourselves, “Am I individually, and are we collectively as a community, doing everything we can for New Mexico students?”

Let’s make sure we can all answer with a confident “Yes!”

(Amanda Aragon is the executive director of NewMexicoKidsCAN, and a member of Rio Rancho High School’s Class of 2005.)

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