Shangri-La is a fictional, idyllic place where all is well.

Then there is Curricula, a school district that finds itself smack in the middle of COVID-19. It’s a virtual place that’s being built as you read this. But it’s real.

The architects are a team of DMPS curriculum coordinators assembled to respond to this educational emergency like the Army Corps of Engineers often does to natural disasters. This small Army of Committed Educators is retooling a software platform called Canvas, originally adopted to facilitate an online high school, to deliver comprehensive Pre-K through high school course content, and they’re doing it on the fly while also juggling their personal crises.

We sat in on one of the team’s recent screen meetings to try and get a sense of how they do it.

Together, that’s how.

“We have virtual coffee hours in the morning,” said PE & Health Curriculum Coordinator Carlye Satterwhite. “I really look forward to those for support of one another. Plus, I’m an extrovert so I need the contact with my colleagues.”

Science Coordinator Jonnie Becker emphasized the musketeer dynamic of “one for all and all for one” that characterizes the group. “No one’s in this for me,” she said. “It’s all about we.”

Under the extraordinary circumstances imposed by the pandemic, it surely would have been easier to contrive a “distance learning” delivery system limited to the basics, the old-school “three Rs” of reading, writing and math. But the curriculum cavalry spans not only the grade level breadth of pre-k through high school, but also the content depth of everything from physical fitness workout regimens to constitutional social studies.

After first developing learning packets that have been distributed both online and in a hardcopy format at the district’s meal pickup sites, the curriculum team has zeroed in on transitioning the Canvas tech framework into a platform for delivery of a compressed online final term of the 2019-20 school year. The task is akin to a factory switching its peacetime product line to meet wartime demands. The rollout began this week with DMPS seniors. Next week grades 9-11 come online followed by pre-k through 8 a week later on April 27.

“No, we haven’t had to do exactly this before,” said Director of Secondary Teaching & Learning Sarah Dougherty, “but we have been trained in skillsets around online learning that we all bring to this situation.”

“Collaborative problem-solving, for instance,” chimed in Visual Arts Coordinator Ben Heinen. “The specifics here are different but principles we’re all used to practicing still apply.”

“Many of us have previously developed online course content,” said Social Studies Coordinator Mckenzie Kennedy, “just not under these circumstances.”

Kelly Schofield is the Director of Elementary Teaching & Learning who, along with Dougherty, is coordinating the distance learning delivery much like Food & Nutrition Director Amanda Miller has led the massive meals program during the closure.

“I am so impressed by this group’s ability to pivot,” she said during a meeting on Thursday afternoon. “They are all flexible and unselfish, despite the fact that in addition to this important work each of them has their own personal situations to manage. Many have their own kids in school, too.”

Nothing bonds a group quite like developing a crash course in How to Keep Schools Open When They’re Closed During a Global Pandemic in real-time. The specific ways and means of professionals are hard to pick up by dropping in at a virtual meeting, but esprit de corps is easy to recognize, even when it’s two-dimensional.

Rest assured the DMPS curriculum gurus are united in their resolve to help you make the most of your time in Curricula – and the hope that this is a once-in-a-lifetime visit.

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