Monrovia Unified School District Newsletter: January 2021

On January 13th, Monrovia Unified’s Board of Education adopted a resolution supporting “A National Day of Racial Healing,” which emphasizes a commitment to work to heal the wounds created by discrimination. The resolution, adopted in conjunction with other districts throughout the country, acknowledges the Tuesday following Martin Luther King Jr. Day as the “National Day of Racial Healing,” and urges community members to promote racial healing and transformation, and to work together to ensure the quality of life for every child.
This year’s inauguration was a historic event. Our students were able to see and experience the celebration of democracy and most notably, observe as our nation’s first female, first Black and Asian-American vice president be sworn in. On January 20th, the inauguration of our country’s new president and vice president presented us all with important lessons.
At Monrovia Unified, one of our mission statements is to challenge our students to be productive members and 
leaders in their community and in their own lives, and we hope that the events of January 20th inspired them to do just that.
Though we are still faced with many uncertainties, Monrovia Unified remains hopeful. We miss seeing our students on campus and I know our students are feeling the impact of being away from school, their peers, and teachers, as well.
The social-emotional well-being of students is a priority at Monrovia Unified. Our resources are updated regularly and can be found on our website and distance learning platform.
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Through our partnership with CareSolace and D’Veal Family and Youth Services, our students, families, and staff have access to vetted Mental Health Care Services by phone or online. 
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Additionally, Monrovia Unified’s “Parent Access to Healing Supports” group and” Special Training Resources Opportunities Networking” group meet once a month through Zoom, giving our parents the opportunity to discuss how to better support each other and their children during these unprecedented times. You can find more information about these meetings on the District’s Parent Support page.

We know that hope and change is on the way. Please continue to practice all health and safety guidelines and stay safe.

Dr. Katherine Thorossian
Distance Learning and Hybrid Learning Updates
In preparation for the safe re-opening of our schools, both the elementary and secondary task forces have been focused on developing a hybrid model of instruction. In reading guidance from the state and the county departments of public health, it is clear that our youngest students will be allowed to return to school first.

For that reason, we have redoubled our efforts to finalize the hybrid model at the elementary level. The elementary task force has reviewed several models from across the state already implemented in nearby counties. We will be provided with an update regarding those efforts in the coming weeks.

The guidance from LADPH has not changed since December. The following are the only six activities allowed on any school campus:
  1. Learning pods
  2. Targeted, specialized services for high-need students
  3. In-person assessments
  4. Standardized testing (PSAT, SAT)
  5. Athletic conditioning
  6. In-person instruction for TK-2 through waivers that have already been approved.
Monrovia Unified offers all but the final item. Our most current work focuses squarely on being able to open for in-person instruction safely.
At the secondary level, several conversations have occurred since our return on January 4th. Students, parents, and staff have weighed in on the issue of adjusting the secondary schedule to provide for additional instructional minutes. Considering the breadth and depth of those conversations, the consensus was to maintain the current instructional schedule.

Based on this outcome, the main objective was identified: refine the current schedule to provide for quality teacher/student contact, effective use of time, as well as social-emotional learning time. The schedule continues to incorporate planning and professional learning time for teachers.

Parents on the secondary task force supported this sentiment, largely echoed by a survey to students at MHS. With approximately 50% of students responding, there was much information that the secondary task force will incorporate into its planning.

When asked which form of instruction they preferred, 37% selected virtual, 28% selected in-person, 22% selected a hybrid model, and the remaining 13% were comfortable with any format. Equally of note is that, overwhelmingly, 85% of respondents preferred keeping the current schedule.
Finally, to gauge additional stressors, our high school students were asked to indicate the primary conflicts they faced when attending Zoom classes. Below is a breakdown of their responses. Students were able to select more than one option.

  • 26.8% (211) = Helping out with siblings
  • 24.4% (192) = Device is not reliable
  • 50.8% (400) = Wifi is not reliable
  • 19.9% (157)  = Working to help out family
  • 61.9% (487) = Distractions
  • 27.3% (215) = Mental health issues
  • 26.6% (209) = Feeling lonely/alone
  • 44.7% (352) = Lack of social connectedness
The overarching theme of responses is captured by one student’s statement:
“Our focus in increasing distanced education quality should be trying to make the most of the in-class time teachers already have, by encouraging teachers to give lectures over Zoom, and save activities and practice for homework, instead of vice-versa. Let the teachers teach in the time they have. Learning without the teacher is frustrating, and it is even more frustrating to sit through extraneous assignments during class when we could be having valuable time learning from our teachers.”
Efforts as to how staff could make more effective use of the current time were discussed at sites and shared at the secondary task force meeting held on January 22nd. The following includes some of the initial steps to be taken in the coming days:
  • Identify ways to support struggling students, as well as ways to extend and enrich learning for students doing well.
  • Focus on emerging strategies for Distance Learning to close the gap.
  • Utilize Monday afternoon for additional teacher/student contact; i.e., AP classes
The task force will continue its work to enhance distance learning for all students in the short term, then turn its efforts to developing a hybrid model of instruction.

For more information on key resources and information related to COVID-19 and schools. Please visit: California Safe Schools for All.
Brains Under Construction
By Chad Miller, Instructional Specialist
Now, more than ever, our minds are inundated with the content behind the glow of phones, tablets, and laptops. Our most recent move to Distance Learning puts digital devices in our hands, bringing educators, students, and parents together to experience new opportunities and challenges. As these digital interactions cross over into school, work, and entertainment, learning to manage them matters.

Powering down and disconnecting may not be the only answer as we think about managing screen time. Common Sense Media, a research-based digital citizenship nonprofit, suggests that the quality and type of online interaction is more important than the number of minutes spent on a screen.

One of its most recent studies about children and screen time indicated that when it comes to device use, the adult-child relationship is essential to promote executive brain function and learning in early childhood (How much screen time, 2020).  These relationships provide the space for children to learn to choose quality media, interact safely, communicate appropriately, and process emotion with the support of an adult. This guidance and support with content is crucial as “children who consume high-quality content are more likely to develop strong [executive functioning] skills” (Smith, 2020).
Dr. Michael Rich of the Boston Children’s Hospital urges device users to think about how their brain is responding while they interact with screens. Knowing what you are seeing, why you are viewing it, and critically evaluating the content is empowering in both online and offline environments. He urges us to use devices together, play games online, be actively involved in virtual learning with each other, ask thoughtful questions while interacting with media, and prompt students to make real-time judgments about the values and effects of the content (Ruder, 2019).   

Setting healthy habits and boundaries for device use is just as important as the quality of online experiences. Our health and quality of life are at stake. The adage “too much of a good thing” is a powerful reminder that devices are valuable tools in our hands, but lose their merit when they consume our entire attention. Medical research shows that “excessive online activities have caused problems with sleep, school, social functioning, and various aspects of physical and mental health” (Clinic for Interactive Media, 2021).

Immediately preceding the recent pandemic, Common Sense Media reported that the majority of content (73% of screen time) consumed by children under 8 years old consisted of videos, compared with only 3% allotted to school-related content. As distance learning causes a dramatic percentage shift, this leads us to consider the opportunity we have to guide children in their management of time spent on devices.
At present, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to screen time as research considers quality to hold more precedent than quantity (Smith, 2020). This body of evidence confronts us with the reality that screen time management is a community responsibility that is on-going, requiring conversations, device-use schedule setting, media intake accountability, and shared responsibility for digital content. Children need positive adult role models to be their advocates by being actively involved.

Ultimately, we want to take practical steps that promote the health of our global and educational communities, while strengthening our families and our minds. It is essential that we encourage the use of screen time as an opportunity to develop digital literacy and responsible use of web-based resources, while upholding our values, and setting healthy boundaries for our families. We must build with a definitive plan, astute awareness, and ongoing care as we equip our children with the most powerful of tools.
COVID-19 Updates and Resources
Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LADPH) is asking all residents to follow the California Dept. of Public Health’s Jan. 6 travel guidance. Avoid non-essential travel within California of more than 120 miles from home. All persons arriving in or returning to California from other states or countries should self-quarantine for 10 days after arrival. Please check the forthcoming LA County Public Health order to be released Friday, January 29, for updated guidance.

To help you navigate the vaccine process, I want to be sure you have information about the new "My Turn" website from the California Dept. of Public Health. With the new site, people can check their vaccine eligibility in accordance with their occupation, age, and county. They can also receive notifications once they are eligible.

To date, Los Angeles and San Diego are the only counties piloting the site and able to access the scheduling section on MyTurn.Ca.Gov to sign up for notifications and scheduling. For additional information, click HERE.
Monrovia Unified Receives ‘A-’ Niche Rating
Monrovia Unified has received a superb “A-” rating for 2021 from Niche, an online platform dedicated to connecting people to their future schools.

Niche collects ratings and reviews and uses that information to create school district profiles.

For categories such as districts with the best teachers in California, best places to teach in California, and most diverse school districts in California, Monrovia Unified placed in the top 100. There were about 700 districts in each of the three categories.

Monrovia Unified received its “A-” rating based on topics such as academics, teachers, diversity, college prep, administration, health and safety, and more. The rating reflects our dedication to the mission of providing “World-Class Schools for World-Class Students.”