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Taos Academy moves seamlessly into the virtual world

When Taos Academy was founded 12 years ago, the intent wasn’t to prepare for a pandemic and quarantine; but when quarantine hit, they could not have been better prepared.

Elizabeth LeBlanc, Taos Academy Director of Teaching and Learning Curriculum, said their “blended learning model has lent itself well to the pandemic. We’ve experienced testing these skills over a year now. We thought it was for a couple of weeks. Our students are used to having to complete part of their work on their own, so it wasn’t such a shock. Digital courses just kept going. Our students really haven’t experienced learning loss. We have students who are graduating early. We provide a school that allows for that, but it’s really up to the students.” 
“It’s a balance for us too,” said Dr. Traci Filiss, the school’s executive director/superintendent. “In this time of COVID and all the things that go along with it, we did not just pick up our schedule and move it online. We focused on the needs of each student and family. I really want to get the message out that maintaining the focus on relational learning and the research we’ve done the past 12 years has really made for a strong community, especially during COVID. We’re committed to each other. Even our new students are wrapped up in the community from day one. We’re reaching out to them, asking what we can do for them, checking in if we don’t hear from them. That’s relational learning.” 
Brayan Salinas is a Taos Academy alumnus who is currently set to graduate from Hampshire College in 2021 with a BA in Critical Social Thought. “It’s a good school, with lots of flexibility,” he recalled. “It helped me graduate high school when I thought I couldn’t in a traditional setting.” 
“We know that expecting kids and grownups to log in every day is not realistic,” said LeBlanc. “One of the things that’s so unique is to be able to have that flexibility for students to access tutors, their teachers, their principal, anybody all day, not just during class time. Especially this year we are seeing fantastic engagement, fantastic data on our kids. What’s amazing is that on paper you wouldn’t know there’s a pandemic happening. In fact we started classes [Jan. 11], and we see people every day working. It is kind of amazing how quickly it becomes a community.” 
To enroll or for information, see taosacademy.org or call 575-751-3109. LeBlanc, who is also the statistician for Taos Academy, sent some of the impressive success stats, including 71 students taking Rosetta Stone language courses with a 92 percent pass rate, and an increasing number of 9th and 10th-graders taking UNM classes aligned to their Next Step Plan Career Pathways. 
“We have students who have actually graduated with an associates degree as they’re graduating high school,” marveled LeBlanc. Added Filiss, “Our early college high school helps students to get jump started across that bridge into college. This is another piece of getting them actually prepared. We put a lot of resources into it. We do the same with our middle school students, we offer them the opportunity to take high school classes as a bridge into high school.”
 “The perception that we’re all separate, that kids are separate based on where they go to school, is more of an adult issue,” said Filiss. “We have a long history of turf wars that we’re trying to break through to be recognized as a public, community school. We still encounter people who don’t know we’re a public school. We don’t charge admission, we’re funded the same way as all public schools in New Mexico. There’s no application or vetting, just the desire to learn with us.”

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