Despite the myriad of variables that have continued to shift week to week and month to month as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, BES leaders have been determined to respond to the academic, social-emotional, and health needs of their students and families. While following state guidelines, leaders sought community input to craft school plans that would work for each of their students.
The result? Stellar examples of highly-engaged learning communities across in-person, hybrid, and fully remote contexts.
Both Ambrosia Johnson, Founder and Head of School of Ivy Hill Prep in Brooklyn, and Cary Finnegan, Founder and Executive Director of Brooklyn RISE, are offering in-person instruction to students in accordance with New York state guidelines. Each school presented families with comprehensive plans for reopening and then used a family survey to better understand the percent of students they would teach in person. From these results, each leader designated teachers as either “live” or “remote” instructors. You can see their sample schedules here.
Leaders have left no stone unturned to ensure the safety of students and staff in on-site school.
Leaders carefully planned arrival and dismissal procedures to limit contact and the spread of germs.
Ivy Hill Prep students still greet staff each morning, but use socially-distanced hugs instead.
Brooklyn RISE has clear signage, showing checklists for students to stay safe in the building.
Brooklyn RISE purchased mobile hand washing stations for hallways. These keep students from having to go all the way to the bathroom to wash up in the morning.
Both Ambrosia and Cary have also worked to ensure that students experience consistency and joy in their school routines during this challenging time.
Ivy Hill Prep students begin each day sharing their emotions using the “How Are You Feeling?” chart located in each classroom.
Plexiglass and masks don’t stop students from showing joy!
This second grader has no problems teaching his class, mask and all!
Staff deserve growth and development opportunities even during periods of uncertainty and change. Cary continues to provide real-time feedback in every classroom while maintaining safety protocols.
Students at Brooklyn RISE give in-person instruction a thumbs-up!
We’ve all heard the common refrains about remote learning. My school is only seeing 50% attendance. Parents and students are struggling to log in, with some lacking technology or internet connections. Remote instruction is just not the same. Learning is not happening.
Soleil Academy in Lynwood, CA, has committed to ensuring their students have a different experience. The school’s average daily attendance for remote learning is 95%, and within one week teachers were engaging students in pre-COVID lesson structures, daily read-alouds, phonics, and math stories.
Mrs. Reid is hard at work engaging her new K students who are learning at home!
How is the school getting such strong attendance? Beatriz Gutierrez, Founder and Executive Director of Soleil Academy, ensured that clear messaging to families started before the school year began. Her team communicated expectations for learning (daily schedule, Zoom etiquette, etc.) throughout the summer, shipped materials (dry-erase boards, paper, books, writing utensils) directly to families, and ensured every home had a computer and WiFi hotspot. Once instruction began, a staff member was dedicated to attendance-related matters for the first couple of weeks. This monitor was responsible for calling all absent families immediately, making visits to families who had not been responsive, and helping families troubleshoot technology issues. According to Beatriz, “the key piece has been working with urgency for the benefit of our students, their safety, and their access to a quality education.”
Beatriz shared Soleil’s detailed daily remote learning tracking process, linked here.
Ben Samuels-Kalow, Founder and Head of School of Creo College Prep in the Bronx, NY, ensures his team is focused on students’ social-emotional health as a key to successful online learning.
Every morning, students meet in small-group advisories and check in emotionally and physically. The advisors have been trained to spot signs of emotional and physical distress. Students then take part in guided breathing activities and remote yoga instruction, allowing them to recenter before starting classes.
During core instruction, the school’s social workers circulate Zoom rooms to proactively address any students struggling with the weight of trauma they have experienced during the pandemic.
The biggest challenge of hybrid learning has been the potential for discontinuity between at-home/remote days and on-site days.
To solve for this, Mitch Flax, Founder and Head of School of Valence College Prep in Queens, NY, created a schedule for his middle schoolers so that each student learns new material every day. Teachers’ daily lessons are streamed via Zoom so that remote students have the same access as those in person. Additionally, every Zoom room has a support teacher who ensures that all remote students have working technology and can engage with the learning prompts. (See Valence’s roles and responsibilities of support teachers here.)
At Étoile Academy in Houston, TX, Founder and Superintendent Kayleigh Colombero and her team have not discounted the importance of planning out often overlooked routines, such as bathroom breaks, for those students who are attending school in person. Teachers monitor classes to ensure students are socially distanced, standing three floor tiles apart.
Even while in the building, Étoile students can attend virtual office hours with other teachers to limit contact in the classrooms.
The Étoile team has tried to keep students engaged with one another while working remotely. For example, staff has ensured that Homework Club continues to meet virtually for the students who need the structure of a specific time and “place” to work independently. Students in the Social Justice Club are also engaging over Zoom, discussing the judicial system and current events.
The Étoile team recognized that students missed seeing one another, so they scheduled times for students to virtually socialize without the pressure of completing work or talking about instruction.
These school leaders have been gracious enough to share additional remote learning tools that include parent and student communication examples, pedagogical approaches, instructional trackers, and more. Access these resources here.
Though there may be many other changes coming our way in schooling this year, one thing is certain: BES leaders and their teams refuse to accept defeat, getting creative and working tirelessly to meet the needs of their students, staff, and families. While this year wasn’t what anyone expected, we find inspiration in what they’ve already begun to accomplish in the first weeks of school.