The Escuela Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins is the largest elementary school in Puerto Natales and has 600 students. The cessation of face-to-face classes generated great confusion among its management and teaching teams, who immediately began to look for different technological alternatives to face the challenge of remote teaching. They considered two requirements: that the children could access it easily and that it would allow them to maintain constant communication. They decided to use Classroom, a free platform for anyone with a Google account, which during this period has made it easier for the school to communicate, create classes and distribute tasks in an organised way.
Liliana Cárcamo, the school's director, warns that emotionally this has been a difficult time that has worn down the community. "The fact that we are a school that has always been very affectionate, with a lot of attachment, a lot of hugs, greeting each other with a kiss in the morning, now with the social distancing is taking its toll on us".It has been a difficult time for the community," she says. "Little by little we have carried out training with self-help therapies for the staff and we have tried to meet with the children who have been depressed, because it is our responsibility to provide help if there is a child who is repeatedly showing anguish, grief or sadness, and to refer him or her to school coexistence.
For the families in the community, coping with the confinement has not been easy either, but they have still been able to continue with their children's educational process. "We never imagined that something like this would happen.Claudia Vargas, a parent of Aynara, who attends kindergarten at the school, says. "It throws you off, because you have to start from scratch and have another disposition to change. At first we were reluctant because we thought we were going to go back soon, but after two weeks, a month, well, we realised that we had to adapt".
The parent says that the most difficult part of the family dynamic has been concentrating everything at home: "Work at home, motherhood at home, tastes, hobbies, everything at home. Because, although it is true that Aynara has a class schedule, it is difficult to organise, either because of everyone's work or because of the daily things that have to be taken care of, especially with the younger children who need more support.
The teaching staff, meanwhile, have also felt the consequences of the pandemic. On the one hand, they have had to continue with their daily lives, be a support for their families, but also contain the students and parents. "It's been complicated, because my two-year-old son often doesn't understand why his mother spends so many hours in front of the computer.says Marisol Almonacid, an English teacher.
"We teachers have put our personal lives to one side a bit, although it has been very comforting to be part of the collaborative work and to feel the support of the management team, who have taken care to provide us with the tools.
On Friday 13 March, before the official announcement of the suspension of classes, the school's management and teaching teams met because they knew it was very likely that they would have to start a new way of teaching. "We understood the importance of our professional responsibility and we had to move forward," says Liliana Cárcamo. "Days before, I had received a letter from the Ministry of Education informing us of certain platforms that we could use.
The headmistress also points out that the school is in the habit of recording and keeping a log of the hobbies and interests of teachers and staff. In this way, a team with common interests and technological expertise was formed, called Computines, which in two days was responsible for studying the options of the platforms in depth and, later, for training the teams.
"On 15 March we were already training with the free version of Classroom".Marisol Almonacid says. "In parallel, the first fortnight we prepared material and guides and distributed them to parents via WhatsApp", says Marisol Almonacid.. The teacher notes that during this period they also began to conduct surveys to find out whether the homes had what they needed to start implementing the platform and, later, when the winter holidays came early, the teams focused on mastering the functions of the tool during those weeks.
"We wanted to reach the majority," she says, "and for those who didn't have access, we gave them the printed material. And while, on the one hand, it was essential not to overwhelm them with information, we also knew that it was very important for them to continue their educational process and school rhythm, so that they wouldn't lose the connection with their peers.
This is also confirmed by five-year-old Aynara who, during this period, she says, has not stopped painting and drawing, but who does not enjoy it very much when she spends too much time in front of the computer: "What I liked least about the pandemic was not being able to play with my friends. I really miss Blanca, Amanda and Ignacia".
Liliana Cárcamo notes that with Classroom the school started out reaching 83% of the children, and now that figure is over 90%: only fifteen students receive the printed material. "It was very important for us to reach as many of our students as possible.she says.
"One of the central goals the school set for itself with distance learning was to make our children feel that life didn't stop in 2020. We have tried to create a virtual school where they can access the gym, the library, the staff room - in other words, to give them the best of our resources.
Parent Claudia Vargas says that, although it took time to adapt to Classroom, she has found the platform friendly and the training provided by the school was very useful. "Particularly, the way the English teacher has worked has been very didactic by incorporating capsules, where, in addition to the activities, she records her voice and songs. I have been struck by the way she does this material and the pauses she generates, because I have been able to see how Aynara develops the routines and strategies as if she were in the classroom.
"Classroom is a completely virtual schoolsays Marisol Almonacid, "where you find all the same facilities that exist in the physical space. We also have the possibility of using Meet, with which, along with other tools that the platform has, we have been able to generate immediate feedback with the children, in addition to the transmission of videos, in which we have incorporated elements of We Learn, such as the songs and routines that they already know".
This initiative is part of the document "Educational communities: 6 stories of innovation in times of pandemic" which you can download in full at this link https://bit.ly/2DGXlJ6