The type of connection a student makes with their initial contact at a new school could predict what the rest of their experience will be like. AHCCS knows how important it is to transition our students into a cyber learning environment, and what an impact the person coordinating this will have on their success. Student Launch Pad is a 4-day introductory course in which new students develop the technical and motivational skills to be successful in cyber school. Launch Pad Facilitator Mrs. Amy Gazzillo knows very well how crucial the first days of school are, and she is here to make it the best experience possible.
“I saw teaching as a creative outlet and I loved putting a spin on a traditional lesson,” Mrs. Gazzillo says.
“Instead of my jumping right into course work after they complete their orientation, I try and get them to tell me a little bit about themselves which helps me latch onto their interests with follow up questions. Sometimes I get students that tell me they have no hobbies, so I ask them for the name of their favorite movie or something in hopes that they realize that they do have something to offer. There is something unique about all of them, even if they don’t know what it is yet.”
Mrs. Gazzillo has been with AHCCS for almost 3 years and has the benefit of a teaching background to help students exit this course successfully, so they are ready for their first day of core classes. After receiving a teaching certificate later in life, she taught 6th grade math for 13 years. Even though she thought she would completely change career paths after leaving teaching at a traditional brick and mortar, she explains how nice of a transition it was to start a new position where she could still use her teaching skills.
“I am the first teacher all of our students come in contact with, so it’s my job to help them through these beginning stages because they aren’t expected to know it all,” Mrs. Gazzillo says. “I love when students ask me to help them because it gives me the opportunity to get to know them so much better. Spending more time with students in the course helps me form relationships. Of course, we are also proud of the students who don’t need as much assistance.”
Mrs. Gazzillo tries to reciprocate the lighthearted communication she has with her students by keeping the tone of her messages encouraging and relatable to them. She believes using smiling emojis or titling messages such as “You Can Do This!” can really make a huge difference. Her favorite moments are when students are funny, open and honest. Mrs. Gazzillo has experienced firsthand how much listening to and reassuring students can allow them to feel comfortable sharing personal information.
“I was in contact with one particular student who was having a hard time at home, yet she kept mentioning that she was interested in the idea of mindfulness,” Mrs. Gazzillo said. “I thought about how mature that was, because you don’t expect someone her age to be aware of something like that. After asking myself why we all aren’t more like that when things don’t go our way, I gave her a mindfulness journal to write down her thoughts. These students really make me appreciate what I have and inspire me to be the little bit of consistency they might have in their lives.”
Coworkers know how well students respond to Mrs. Gazzillo’s warm touch and can attest that their relationships last beyond the launchpad course. Mrs. Gazzillo’s supervisor, Alane Butler, praises her ability to help new students become ready to take on this new learning experience.
“Transitioning to a new online school can be confusing for students,” Mrs. Butler says. “Mrs. Gazzillo does a great job of guiding them through their first days at AHCCS and giving them the confidence they need for a successful start.”
The last day of Launchpad focuses on career readiness by asking students to complete a survey that helps them discover their strengths and interests. Some students come in telling Mrs. Gazzillo what they want to do after high school, but she tries to focus on why they want to do something while challenging them to consider the specifics of that career path. Providing options and recommending careers related to their interests help as well, but Mrs. Gazzillo knows all too well that you can’t expect every student to take the exact same steps to find their outlet.
“Don’t expect students to follow the route you think they should and don’t be disappointed if something doesn’t happen exactly the way you think it should happen,” Mrs. Gazzillo says. “Instead of questioning why they didn’t do something, focus on why they did do something. Allowing them to take their own path to reach their goal allows you to focus on the why rather than the what.”
Mrs. Gazzillo encourages all parents to sit in on their students’ orientation, poke around their accounts as soon as possible, and be the shoulder behind them while they are going through this transition!