How do you keep education engaging online? What are innovative ways to hold students’ attention in a virtual environment? For Nueva Vista Language Academy’s Principal Joshua Herrera (Cred. 13) and Vice Principal Casey Rivas (M.A. 19) these questions were critical to figure out in order to break down barriers for teaching and student interaction.

Nueva Vista, located in Delano, California, ties every new school year into a theme, which is included in the professional development for teachers, awards and incentives, and learning for the students. In the past, they have done things like Disney and “The Wizard of Oz” but had to navigate a few additional obstacles during this modified learning format to keep that tradition alive. 

This year, faculty had come up with the idea of students ‘traveling the world.’ This concept prompted Herrera and Rivas to explore how students could feel like they were seeing different parts of the world from the comfort of their homes while ensuring that everyone would be able to actively participate. Rivas explained, “We wanted them to be able to see a different place around the world once a month.” 

In order to make the experience feel authentic, they created passports for students to take home where they wrote reflections and received stamps for the places they had visited. The first destination the school planned was a trip to Hawaii where each person was able to pick up a lei, a pineapple, and several books about the state from the school. 

Rivas shared that the virtual field trips allowed students to feel like “they were really at the Dole Plantation on Oahu or on top of a volcano. We developed slides with music, where the icons lead to different interactive experiences and lessons. In the morning they learn all about a specific place and pick up souvenirs in the afternoon.” 

The passport is something Herrera believes to be one of the most valuable parts of this experience. He explained, “Our students are creating a collection of memories and lessons, which hopefully at the end of the year act as a token of their learning.” 

While virtual learning may have caused some initial challenges, Herrera and Rivas felt prepared to tackle these obstacles as servant leaders to the students, teachers, and staff they work for—a concept they learned through Point Loma Nazarene University. 

Rivas received her master’s in education with an emphasis on leadership in learning through PLNU. She reflected: “I was able to pull so much from what I experienced at Point Loma while being a leader of my classroom into being the vice principal. There’s no job too small. We wanted to find the ways we could support our teachers and students to make sure they had what they needed during this time.” 

Herrera received his administrative services credential through PLNU and said that it was the mentors he had like Jill Hamilton-Bunch, Ph.D., who left a lasting impression on him and still influence the work he does. “My education taught me that we have to do things with our people and work to ensure these kids have the best education possible by showing them that we care,” he said. “We’ve always had an emphasis on doing great things for the students of Delano Union School District. Our kids can do amazing things and are so capable.” 

In the face of uncertain times, Herrera and Rivas have found ways to bring community and excitement to their school in ways that allowed their students to see the world from the comfort and safety of their homes. 

Casey Rivas and Joshua Herrera have also been honored with a 2021 PLNU Homecoming Alumni Award. To learn more, visit the PLNU Homecoming website.

Micah Renner is a writer with a passion for helping people tell their stories.