How Distance Learning and Work Study Are Going for ICA Cristo Rey Students and Teachers

By Francesca Joanna Martin ‘21

The coronavirus pandemic is still surging today around the world. Social distancing, staying six feet away from others, and wearing masks are mandated in most states to prevent the spread of the disease.

The 2020-2021 school year at ICA Cristo Rey has begun with distance learning. In August, we resumed our education and corporate work study experiences online to keep our students and community safe and healthy during this time.

The school’s leadership team formulated plans over the summer with input from teachers, students, and our families about their needs, including setting optimal daily online class schedules, making teachers and staff available to support students, and delivering work experience to students remotely.

Although we students, faculty, and staff are not physically together at this time, we are coming together with confidence, optimism, and care that we can make this a great school year. 

What it looks like this year

This year we are using a block schedule, attending each of our classes for eighty minutes two times a week. On Fridays, we have our Corporate Work Study Program (CWSP) experiences remotely as well. Teachers also provide office hours for us after school, where we can ask for help or clarification we may need on any assignments. Senior Jeslyn Nair reflected, “Since we are not in the classroom, I can become stuck on lessons and homework and cannot ask my teachers directly for help. However, every Tuesday and Thursday, my teachers have office hours that I can attend to ask for help.”

We have successfully and cooperatively thrived within this schedule. As a senior at ICA Cristo Rey, I have been able to adapt well to this method of learning and working. Other students, including myself, and teachers find these schedules enjoyable and convenient. Jeslyn also said, “I honestly like this new online learning experience, especially because of the block schedule giving us a few classes per day, instead of all seven in one day. I appreciate how we have twenty minutes between each class, which gives me time to eat, redo my notes, work on my assignments, or find the link to my next class.”

For us students to be college-ready during this time of distance learning and working remotely, we have committed to certain guidelines:

  • We continue to wear uniforms while attending our online classes and work-study experiences.
  • We are fully and actively present online.
  • With a caring mindset for our studies and professionalism, we devote ourselves to logging in for class on-time, with cameras on, to communicate effectively with our teachers and peers.
  • We utilize our Google Chromebooks, textbooks, and materials for our classes, all provided by our school.

By following our school guidelines, our community is actively working together to accomplish our educational goals. We ICA Cristo Rey Spartans are proud of our integrity and tenacity, even at a distance. 

Teachers remain committed

Just like us students, our teachers are unfamiliar with online classes. However, this does not stop our teachers from utilizing their vibrant and effective teaching skills to instruct us.

Ms. Ria Aquino, the senior World Religions teacher at ICA Cristo Rey, has learned many things from this online teaching experience: “Last semester, the school closed by surprise and we immediately needed to figure out ways to accomplish our teachings to students. But this semester, we have more time to create better lessons, as we only meet with students two times a week. So far, my classes have gone well and are enjoyable, as I can be more prepared for teaching.”

Ms. Aquino utilizes a variety of teaching methods and styles to ensure that her students are understanding the material she teaches. She said, “I do frequent check-ins to check my students’ understanding and for them to reiterate what they learn. I also incorporate exit tickets for them to respond to topics discussed in class, helping me know how much they understand the topics.

“I appreciate that creating class schedules was a collaborative effort with staff members. Before this school year started, we had meetings discussing the pros and cons of different schedules, thus coming to a model that best fits our community. I also like the block schedules, as it gives rest between classes.”

Ms. Aquino faces some challenges but finds tactics to manage these difficulties: “I find it challenging to do engaging activities since we are not in the classroom physically to work in groups and move around. To handle this, I constantly research what other teachers do, utilizing social media platforms as a resource. From this, I familiarize myself with the best practices of teaching that other teachers use during this time, including activities, handouts, and slideshows.” 

Students receive work experience and professional skills remotely

Two vital pieces of the ICA Cristo Rey mission are delivering a college-prep education and giving students real-life work experiences with our corporate partners. Gaining this experience helps us develop academic and professional skills for college and future careers. These companies have students work in intern positions and, in exchange, they provide financial support to the school to help offset the cost of student education.

Mr. Bill Olinger, ICA Cristo Rey’s CWSP Director, said, “Every year, our department looks to continue partnerships with our current corporate sponsors and donors. We also look to partner with new companies and donors who believe in our mission of empowering young women who will be our future leaders.”

Because of the economic impact of the pandemic on our corporate partners, not all have been able to renew their partnerships. “For many of our companies, remote work possibilities are not available due to many factors including security, access to needed information, or work unable to be completed remotely,” said Mr. Olinger. However, ICA Cristo Rey is still giving students who are not placed with industry partners real work skills through Friday work sessions directed by the CWSP curriculum team.

Mr. Olinger explained: “We noticed that many of our corporate partners were uncertain when their offices would be open for their employees, let alone for our students to return to work. In anticipation of this uncertainty, we were able to supplement the Corporate Work Study Program workday with an online Microsoft Excel certification course. This course matches the goals of the program by providing students an opportunity to add an important skill that will not only benefit our corporate partners when students return to work, but will also be a tool to help students succeed in college and beyond.”

Jeslyn, a senior enrolled in the Excel course, reported, “During Friday workdays, we are provided a schedule with Excel assignments to complete by a certain time, so that we do not fall behind the work.” Another senior, Kaylani Martin, said, “Due to the shortages of corporate sponsors for student job placements this year, I was not assigned a job, but it is okay because I have the opportunity to learn and develop professional skills on Microsoft Excel!”

As many corporate partners may not have remote work for students, they still financially support the school. In response to this, Mr. Olinger declares, “We cannot thank our corporate partners enough, as we are humbled by their generosity. We are very fortunate because although many companies do not have remote work for students, they still so strongly believe in our mission, partner with us every year, and provide financial support for our work study program for students to complete their Microsoft Excel Certification.”

As for my work experience, I have received a job placement at ICA Cristo Rey in the Mission Advancement Department, where I am primarily working on, and learning about, marketing and communications. This also gave me the chance to write this piece!

Confident and Successful

Despite the challenges we face during this coronavirus pandemic, the ICA Cristo Rey Academy community is especially aiming to continue students’ education and work experiences. Though attending class, completing schoolwork, and doing our professional work online is different for most of us, it is nevertheless vital for us to continue our pursuit of college readiness. Our teachers have guaranteed that they will educate us comprehensively and thoroughly, providing assistance and support whenever we need it.

With all these resources available, we feel confident and optimistic while learning from a distance. As distance learning keeps the community safe during the pandemic, it has become a successful strategy for us ICA Cristo Rey Spartans in pursuit of academic excellence.

Francesca Joanna Martin is a senior at ICA Cristo Rey working with the Academy’s Mission Advancement Team. She is collaborating with the team to inform our community about our mission to educate and empower young women to be future leaders. She is definitely putting her AP English Literature skills to use. Francesca is applying to several colleges across the country for her matriculation in the fall of 2021.

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