FORT KNOX, Ky. — As Fort Knox Schools students came off of spring break and started back to school in their unorthodox home learning environments April 6, academic leaders reflected on the challenges of the transition to virtual learning.Department of Defense Education Activity Americas Kentucky Community Superintendent Youlanda Washington said teachers were faced with a daunting task as DODEA officials told them to quickly adjust to the COVID-19 outbreak by teaching their students online.“From the community’s perspective it was a fast track to pull together a digital platform to support our students,” said Washington.Teachers got the word March 13 to prepare to close the schools, according to Washington. Three days later, teachers took part in a three-day training session to learn how to engage students using a digital platform, according to Washington.She said the new teaching format was not entirely new to them, however.“Teachers have been working throughout the last couple of years on how to incorporate more technology within their classrooms, so they had some background but not at this magnitude,” said Washington. “They have been great in their training at Knox; they took it to heart that it was going to be a shift in what they normally do, so they dug their heels in and began to learn how to not only create the lessons but also how to get the platform together.”Washington said the Southeast District office also participated in training which, by March 19, had prepared all Fort Knox teachers and leaders to launch the digital format.The digital platform being used to teach students was designed and built by a team quickly pulled together by DODEA Americas’ Mid-Atlantic superintendent, Donato Cuadrado, and Southeast District Superintendent Dr. Christy Huddleston, said Washington.“It trickled down to the community, and to the schools,” said Washington.“We took a regional approach,” said Jade Fulce, public affairs officer at DODEA Americas. “[Cuadrado and Huddleston] actually had their staffs work together so we had an overall Americas approach to digital learning. A lot of the things you see at our schools should mirror any community you go to.”Fulce explained that continuity of learning curriculum across all DODEA schools also helped teachers and students adapt to the digital environment with few difficulties.“Everybody was similarly at the same place wherever you were in the world, so we just digitized some of those lesson plans for our localized needs.”Those standards, known as the 21st Century College and Career Standards, govern DODEA 163 schools in eight districts located in 11 countries, seven states and two territories around the world, affecting the education of over 70,000 students.The curriculum format is similar to what college students would experience in most online coursework, said Washington.“Our teachers work to post their lessons, and then they do the digital meetings with their students on a regularly scheduled time,” said Washington. “Once they log in, students see their teacher — like in a Skype meeting — and they have their lessons anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes. Once they get off the link, children have assignments and they learn how to post their assignments.“Our parents have been great supports in helping their children.”Elementary schools are set up a little different from secondary schools, said Washington. Teachers can rotate in and out at the elementary environments, depending on how principals set up the structure. For instance, one teacher may teach all the math; another might teach grammar.When they meet is also different. Elementary schools will meet for live instruction three times a week. Whereas secondary school students will receive instruction daily aligned with their class period.One of the principals who has been on the frontlines of helping bring the lessons to the students is Angelique Johnson, from Van Voorhis Elementary School.“Phase I was the implementation phase. It has gone pretty well; we were just trying to get it out there and get our feet wet,” said Johnson. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from the parents. They like the Google Meets meetings, where the teachers are providing that direct instruction for the students.“Parents have shared that it takes some of the burden off of them.”Washington said they are looking at ways to adjust going forward, especially as the distance learning academic year continues to get extended. Johnson said they have already learned some lessons.“Some of the lessons we’ve learned fairly quickly is that the expectations for the kids when they’re in the traditional classrooms are kind of different in the virtual learning world; they have to be different,” said Johnson. “We’ve made some adjustments as far as our delivery mode.”She said traditional instruction would have one teacher in a classroom of up to 26 students. In the digital environment, they are realizing that smaller groups of about six students per session is much more effective.Her teachers are also reducing the amount of screen time the students have, while still encouraging socializing time among the students when they are online. They try to celebrate spirit weeks and some of the projects the children are involved with during a traditional school year.“The parents have really appreciated the flexibility of the teachers being available for the students,” said Johnson. “We’re trying to create some personal normalcy in a situation that we thought we’d never find ourselves in.”