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Belonging & Learning From a Distance: How PAA Makes Meaningful Connections During a Pandemic

“He prepared the way before we could even imagine it,” said Portland Adventist Academy principal, Mechelle Peinado. As Oregon state and health authorities laid out plans in March to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic, schools, churches, sporting events, and spring break mission trips were cancelled.

PAA teachers tested out different platforms for digital meetings.

“We are so blessed,” says Peinado. “We had already moved to a 1:1 Chromebook program at the beginning of the school year. Teachers had already been using and incorporating online platforms. So we jumped right into our first week of eLearning before spring break.”

While pandemics are not new to this world, advanced technology during a pandemic is. The coronavirus pandemic became a catalyst, energizing innovation throughout schools around the world.

At PAA, the move to distance-learning allowed for a more flexible and unconventional schedule. Monday through Thursdays were dedicated to online teaching with opportunities to connect with teachers one-on-one every afternoon. “Teachers went the extra mile to make sure they had everything they needed,” says Caroline Bass, a PAA mom. “They’ve tried to make it as close as possible to a class environment which, I’m sure, is very difficult. I greatly admire it.”

Teachers spent extra time and energy to connect with students beyond their academic learning.

Honors Anatomy and Physiology students were blessed with access to powerful software so they could explore the chambers of a virtual heart. They tested their blood types at home, too.

Anatomy & Physiology students explored a digital, 4D human heart at home with the help of advanced software.

In home-kitchens-turned-science-labs, PAA chemistry students made their own ice cream. Physical Education students couldn’t do their usual spring team sports games. But instead, the girls’ P.E. students designed their own morning workouts and shared them online to inspire others to keep moving.

Physics class wasn’t able to hold their Bridge Breaking Contest, but teacher Kevin Petersen said the restriction to meet in-person became an opportunity to try something new. His students re-created their favorite bridge from anywhere in the world out of anything they had available.  It inspired them to stretch their imaginations and it inspired Petersen to consider maintaining this assignment for future classes.

Andrew Heinrich’s bridge was created from a Creative Numerical Control design machine.

Ms. Sparks’ English students used their creativity to express their reflections on masks as well as sharing with others how they’re getting through the pandemic with essential needs for learning and thriving. They designed Virtual Learning Portraits to capture their distance learning experience.

“Necessary Nik-Naks” pictures Maddie with her distance learning essentials.

Sydney’s homemade mask shows all the things she hopes people see about her.

Fridays were reserved for spiritual and recreational connection. Chapel premiered to students on Youtube. Stories, music, and thoughts on God were shared by students, teachers, and alumni.

Student Association leaders organized online Spirit Day competitions. And groups like the Rock Climbing Club, Campus Ministries and Gospel Choir met weekly in their own Zoom rooms. One special Friday, English teacher Nathalia Parra hosted a “Poetry Cafe” with two professional and Instagram famous poets. They met in a virtual classroom where the poets shared personal work and advice and where students could ask questions and share their own poetry.

Ms. Parra hosted a Poetry Cafe where to professional poets came to hear students’ original work and to share their own. 

Friday evenings faithfully welcomed the Sabbath with PAA’s tradition of Community, student-led vespers; and instead of meeting in family homes, they met by Zoom.

Pastor Mackenzie’s virtual chaplain’s office provided a place where students could find encouragement, connection, and spiritual guidance. A podcast and blog featured student perspectives on self-care during this difficult time.  While students and teachers missed meeting on campus, there was comfort in making space for what was uncomfortable.

“This has been a time of testing and a time of trial,” reflects Bass. “It has also been a time of strengthening.” “It is a spiritual strength to know where to go when you need help,” she adds. “The people that surround my children contribute to this spiritual strength. They will have lives that are not shaken by what happens in the world or that are not shaken by what they hear or see because they are grounded in Christ. They are grounded in the teachings they were given at home and the teachings at school.”

As PAA prepares for a new school year, the pandemic continues on. But we remain faithful. Faithful to God, we trust in His mighty love. That love serves our commitment to care for students, each other, and our greater community.

Portland Adventist Academy has contingency plans for in-person and distance-learning alike.We will always uphold county and state pandemic mandates. We will always work hard to protect the wellness and safety of our students, staff, and greater community.  Class sizes are capped so enroll as soon as possible. When we are able to meet in person, students must maintain social distance. That means space is limited. Enroll now HERE or book an in-person distanced or a virtual tour  HERE.
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