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Fort Thomas Unified School District offices

It’s been a month. For the last four weeks, the 600 students who attend Fort Thomas Unified School District have been hard at work learning new math skills, reading about history and writing essays.

However, unlike their counterparts in Pima, Thatcher and Safford, the kids who attend Fort Thomas schools are still being taught remotely for their own safety.

Members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe are being struck by COVID-19 in higher numbers than the rest of Graham County right now so opening schools in Fort Thomas has been put on hold until at least Oct. 13.

Graham County Health Director Brian Douglas said the reservation is simply going through the same spike in cases as all of the other communities did, just a little bit later.

When the district was forced to shut down schools last spring because of the virus, students began receiving paper packets of instructional materials. This year, students are being taught online through the Google Classroom platform, said FTUSD Superintendent Shane Hawkins.

Teachers were brought in early to learn the platform.

“Distance learning is significantly different in this school year than last. We were basically in pandemic mode last year,” Hawkins said. “This year we’re in distance learning. It’s nothing like it would be in live classrooms. There’s a lot to say about having students in the classroom and learning through direction instruction with a teacher, but this is significantly more than what it was in the spring.”

It’s been a bit of a struggle for teachers and students, he said.

“It’s just like any kind of learning model. Some students are thriving, some are doing OK and some are struggling. Our job is to work to bring those struggling up and enrich the students who are thriving. It doesn’t matter if it’s in-school learning or distance learning, that’s the battle of teaching,” Hawkins said.

With Oct. 13 being six weeks off, Hawkins said, the path forward is clear.

“We have to become better teachers and better learners through distance learning and it’s going to be a process,” he said.

He praised his teachers for all of the hard work they’ve put in to learning an entirely platform.

“I would say we have accepted it. Our staff has accepted the situation that we’re in and this is how we’re educating kids,” Hawkins said. “Our staff is great. They want to teach kids and today that’s how they have the opportunity to teach, through distance teaching plans, Google classroom and other things we have going on out there.”

Knowing just how important it is to connect with parents and students, Hawkins said his administrators, teachers and staff have become a constant presence on Facebook. They’ve introduced new staff, made announcements and even held governing board meetings using the medium. This on top of emails, texts and phone calls.

“We’re trying to use social media to make connections, to connect the community with the school when you can’t truly connect,” Hawkins said.

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