Distance Learning – The New Normal

In the middle of March 2020, with little notice, Alto students and faculty were asked to stay at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic and began a journey of reimagining the International Baccalaureate curriculum via distance learning. Through this time and for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, Alto International School’s mission, “to provide an outstanding international, multilingual education focused on inquiry-based learning to foster confident, creative, and responsible learners and global thinkers” lives on in a new light!

Following the guidance of the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) and sharing wisdom with other IB schools worldwide, Alto’s academic team has created learning schedules and curriculum to serve students in preschool through grade 12. Weekly parent meetings, as well as virtual student/parent conferences, have helped us create developmentally appropriate programs while also taking into consideration the individual needs of our community of learners. 

In preschool, teachers are continuing to foster their connection with our students, providing continuity in German language, and meaningful content-related activities. Their current unit of inquiry, “sharing the planet,” focuses on animal classification, the interconnectedness of humans and animals, and actions that humans can take to meet the needs of animals better. Each week, using a variety of online platforms, preschool teachers provide recorded messages, which include a mix of unit inquiry/exploration, storytime, finger play, music, cooking, science, and art. Preschool teachers also regularly schedule one-on-one and small-group online meetings. 

In the lower school, students are also utilizing online platforms such as Zoom, Seesaw, and Google Classroom to work collaboratively on ongoing Units of Inquiry of the IB Primary Years Program. For example, in grade 4, students explored the pros and cons of renewable energy. Students created mock windmills, water wheels, solar ovens, and biomass facilities at home, which were presented to peers in online class meetings. Next, they will work on their final unit of the year, “who we are,“ and explore five world religions and other belief systems and traditions. Second graders are working on a unit called, “how we organize ourselves”, during which they investigate different time management strategies and consider how the concept of time impacts our daily lives. 

Alto continues to maintain the same high standards for teaching the IB Middle Years and IB Diploma Program in grades 6 to 12. Each grade has weekly class schedules, and assigned work is either done individually or collaboratively via online tools, such as Zoom, Skype, and Google Classroom. Subject teachers schedule online class meetings as needed to discuss progress and assignments. In addition, faculty hold daily office hours so that students can seek guidance. Advisory groups are also meeting multiple times a week to give students a forum in which to celebrate accomplishments, share concerns, and brainstorm solutions to obstacles. Students in grades 11 and 12 continue to stay on track to successfully complete the IB Diploma program, a two-year rigorous college-prep curriculum. 

Even extracurricular activities are now offered online. Fitness classes and other opportunities for movement are being offered weekly. Students are encouraged to continue to engage in extracurricular activities and volunteer work as much as possible. Some students have even taken on new service opportunities, such as online tutoring, and the Alto student council is organizing an online fundraising auction to support those members in our wider community who are most impacted by the current pandemic. 

In a short amount of time, Alto faculty has transitioned our inquiry-based curriculum to the online world. The process has not been without bumps and pivots. Still, despite inevitable hurdles of changing plans mid-semester, our community has embraced a new reality with enthusiasm, humor, flexibility, and determination. We are grateful to have a dynamic, innovative, and creative group of teachers who are working diligently to maintain student engagement and continuity of academic progress as well as social and emotional wellbeing. 

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