Great Public Schools

Finding Opportunities in Challenges

By Andrew Schaffer

Integrated Media Teacher Sandy High School, Wy’East Education Association

Editor’s Note: Andrew Schaffer and his program are the recipients of the 2020 OnPoint Community Builder award, a prize announced Tuesday, May 12. The program was awarded $2,000 to support live streaming and closed captioning of Sandy High School sports and other events.

The first and most pressing challenge of the school closure has been that we don’t have access to the equipment we use in the program or our studio. I teach digital arts, video production, audio production, and digital filmmaking and these CTE courses do require specialized equipment and software. For example, we use the Adobe ecosphere of software for all our courses but students don’t have those programs on their home computers or computers they borrowed from the school.

The amazing team at the Oregon Trail School District technology department worked closely with us so that students could remotely access the school computers and these programs through a remote desktop program. I was in the classroom one day and three of the computers were being accessed. It looks like there are a bunch of ghosts on the computers.

I really appreciate the collaboration and support from the district team to allow this access for students, but it did mean I had to change up what I planned on teaching at this time. I changed up my curriculum and I’ll teach the concepts I usually start off with in the fall now and come back to the spring content when school starts back up. That means some students will spend the next several weeks learning about film, film genres, and film tropes and then become movie reviewers including making their own YouTube movie reviews.

The biggest loss in content though is for the freshmen students I work with in the introductory course. Normally, they would have spent the last 10 weeks of school working on live production in our studio eventually producing live talk shows. Unfortunately, I can’t replicate that experience. Instead, I’m spending this time exposing them to other digital tools they will have to use later in life. This change to distance learning is a huge change for them! You have to be organized and on top of things and that is really hard. We spent a whole day on Google Keep, for example. We did a lesson on sending a professional email. Next we are going to learn how to use Google Sheets and all the different functions but by making pixel art after studying the works for Frida Kahlo.

These lessons have been fun but engagement with my students has been hard. I am a CTE class and I understand how important my classes are. I know I believe in that. I know my administrators believe in that. I know my students believe in that. But they are focusing on their core classes and getting overwhelmed with other aspects of life and this pandemic so my class gets puts on the back burner. Many of the older students I teach or work with in my advisory class started working either just before or just after this.

I keep doing what I can to make my classes fun, relevant and engaging. Even if I just have one student show up for each class, not only is it my job, but I’m here for a reason. I left the industry where I was making more money to come do this because I believe in it. The evidence shows that CTE programs create careers for students and motivate students to graduate. Who knows what will come out of this school closure, but I think CTE is going to be so important in the coming years to educate our future workforce and help students recover from this major disruption in their education.

I am excited about the potential opportunities we have in the fall through the OnPoint Community Builder award. We have an amazing video studio and a growing digital media department giving our students a lot of experience. We know that when we go back this fall things will be different. We don’t know what live sports and other school events will look like or how many people will be allowed into the gym or auditorium. Live streaming becomes that much more important for our school and our community if we can only allow 50 people in the gym, for example. The OnPoint award allows us to add live closed captioning to the live streaming so our full community can access the content.

I want to encourage all CTE teachers to remember how important their programs are. I’m a 2nd year teacher, but I’m also a Sandy High School graduate and I started volunteering with this program in 2016 before I joined the teaching staff. The evidence is clear that CTE programs create careers for students and motivate students to graduate. I was really involved in the theater department when I was in high school and it led directly to my first career in video production. And now I’m here leading this program.


I think CTE is going to be so important in the coming years to educate our future workforce and help students recover from this major disruption in their education.

Tools to Share

I’m sharing a short “how to” video on using the app, Google Keep. I use this digital tool to help keep track of all of the things I have to do. I’ve been teaching my students to use this tool as well as a self-management tool and a way to organize their distance learning.