The Coast News Group
Online Learning
Winston School in Del Mar continues to connects students with special learning needs with their classmates and teachers through online learning program. Courtesy photo
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Winston School keeping students connected with distance learning program

DEL MAR – Struck with the reality of COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders, educators across the county are learning to adapt to a new, remote world of teaching. And one very small school in Del Mar is rising to the occasion.

The Winston School in Del Mar is managing to connect students with each other, their teachers and even their emotional support animals through technology – with members of their board and school family even donating a total of $35,000 to help maintain the school’s distance learning program and provide financial assistance.

Even before closing their doors on March 13, the Winston School in Del Mar was primed to adapt, according to Head of School Dena Harris. Because of its small size and already technology-focused approach, the school was able to hit the ground running when the time came to react to the pandemic.

The school serves students with special learning needs from across the county, and prides itself on a very individualized approach to learning, with a body of only 96 kids.

And now Winston is looking to keep that approach alive, through one-on-one, three-on-one, five-on-one and 15-person classes all online, through platforms like Google Hangouts.

Teachers are turning to multiple platforms, digital materials, and a flipped classroom concept – a blended learning strategy that essentially involves students processing content on their own first and then discussing it in class. According to Harris, the kids have had no problem adapting to the new range of platforms.

“The kids were already used to this,” she said.

Winston School
Raiden, a student at the Winston School in Del Mar, is one of about 100 students now participating in the school’s online distance learning program. Photo courtesy of the Winston School

And because the school’s director of technology had the foresight to download the school’s materials onto the cloud several weeks before the school closed, teachers already had the tools to get started right away.

It has helped that the school’s inner circle has stepped up to the plate. Since the school shut its doors, it has received a $25,000 donation from its Board President to contribute to its new distance-learning program and $15,000 for its scholarship program – which will help provide flexibility to parents who might be struggling financially during these uncertain times. They also received an additional $10,000 from one of the school’s families, also for the distance learning program.

Harris said the school has kept in touch with leaders from the other private schools in the area to help smooth the transition, including La Jolla Country Day, Santa Fe Christian and Cathedral Catholic.

“The private schools are really stepping up – we’re sharing ideas, talking about how to help families in need,” she said. “That group has been critical for me, and encouraging on how everybody is doing this shift as gracefully as possible.”

For the time being, Harris said the students are taking the changes in stride, and even keeping touch with their therapy animals – the students are used to having a couple of rabbits, mini horses and therapy dogs around as comfort, and they will continue to have that support. Despite the whirlwind of changes, Harris said the response from students so far has been “very positive.”

“It doesn’t mean they don’t express their concern or worry, but I think it’s completely natural and normal,” she said. “And knowing they have someone to talk to and they can get a hold of us…I think that’s really reassuring.”

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