PAA Promotes Belonging and Learning From a Distance

June 26, 2020 | Education | Liesl Vistaunet

“He prepared the way before we could even imagine it,” says Mechelle Peinado, Portland Adventist Academy principal. As Oregon state and health authorities laid out plans to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic, schools began scrambling to adapt to distance learning.

“We are so blessed,” says Peinado. “We had already moved to a 1:1 Chromebook [one Chromebook for every one student] 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 e-learning 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.

The move to distance learning allowed for a more flexible and unconventional schedule at PAA. Mondays through Thursdays were dedicated to online teaching, with opportunities to connect with teachers every afternoon.

“The teachers went the extra mile to make sure [students] 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.”

Honors anatomy and physiology students were blessed with access to powerful software so they could explore the chambers of a virtual heart. In home kitchens-turned-science labs, PAA chemistry students made their own ice cream. Physical education students designed their own morning workouts and shared them online to inspire others to keep moving.

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. Meanwhile, 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 poets. They met students in a virtual classroom for live readings. Students asked questions and got to share their own poetry.

Faithfully, Sabbath was welcomed each Friday night during Community, a live Zoom vespers gathering organized by campus ministries students. Chaplain Mackenzie Aamodt’s virtual office provides a place where students can still find encouragement and connection. A podcast and blog feature student perspectives, and you can replay and watch any previous chapel event.

While students and teachers alike miss meeting on campus, there is 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.”