By Teeshawn Burrell
Return to school! Stay at home! I quit! With a range of mixed emotions from the residents of Chicago, teachers made it clear that they are not compromising their overall health for the sake of educational normalcy. With this in mind, Chicago Public School teachers, students and administrative leadership will begin the Fall 2020 school year with 10 weeks of remote learning.
Plan: To support virtual learning, we fully intend to ensure that every student has a laptop and hot spot (for those that qualify for wifi assistance). Google Classroom and Schoology will be our main platforms to post lessons, activities and any additional resources to support the mode of instruction. Zoom, Google Hangout, and school provided email addresses will serve as our primary source of communication during this time of remote learning.
Challenges and Solutions:
- Based on our virtual experience during SY19-20, it was clear that our students could not handle a full school day of staring at a screen. From March 17- the end of May 2020, student attendance was rocky. Students saw this as the opportunity to seek employment, move with out of state family members, sleep, do nothing, etc . Therefore, this school year, the leadership team created a schedule that would allow students to be in synchronous classes in the morning, and independent work sessions in the afternoon. We also scheduled each Friday to accommodate asynchronous learning. Meaning, without real time interaction, students will have the opportunity to engage in small groups, independent work and or scheduled office hours with teachers for additional academic support.
- Grading policies presented many challenges. We were advised to move towards pass/fail in contrast to our normal grading procedure to accommodate the transition to virtual learning. However, students with below minimum remote engagement were “passing” with subpar effort in their classes. This school year, our regular grading policies are back in action. Students will be accountable and responsible for their academic outcomes. Scholars can no longer get something for nothing during the virtual setting.
- School Outside of School: Last semester, our Seniors were hit the most with event cancellations. Prom, Graduation, Senior Luncheon, and a host of other events did not make the cut. We attempted to create alternative experiences for them, but their disappointment impacted participation. Yet, we made every effort to make our drive by commencement a memorable one. This school year, our students will not miss out on Senior events. With social distancing in place, our team will make sure that students have memories to last a lifetime!
- We also faced the challenge of national assessments being cancelled (PSAT/SAT) or moved to a virtual platform (AP). While we were in the building, it took some time to establish a test taking culture. We prepared our students for PSAT/SAT only for the assessment to be postponed for the following school year. I am concerned about establishing buy-in for our current Seniors that will be taking the SAT Fall 2020 (since the Spring 2020 administration was postponed). In addition, AP students had to complete their exam on-line. Some students struggled with time management, navigating online submission and troubleshooting log-in issues during the AP exam. This year, we are starting the year strong with virtual AP/PSAT/SAT support.
- Technology: One would think that high school students were technologically savvy, but that was not the case for the majority of our students. Some struggled with accessing Google Classroom, accessing class links, the use of cameras, etc. In addition to students, some teachers struggled to keep up with the technology as well. Some teachers had a hard time transitioning from in person instruction to online instruction. Some entered remote learning with the intention of teaching as if they were in the building. Yet, they quickly learned that redefining engagement, chunking instruction, and over communicating would become their new normal. To address these issues, professional development was geared towards providing virtual resources, remote bell to bell instruction, how to navigate Google Suites, and other topics that reflected the needs of our staff.
As a leadership team, we recognize the need for staying connected during remote learning (with teachers, parents and students). We knew that our students entered the building with certain struggles. However, this pandemic has revealed the full scope of what our students face on a daily basis. Thus, we solicited the assistance of an external partner to physically knock on the doors of all students that were unresponsive for remote learning, had a history of trauma/triggers or just to have a touch point with a concerned adult from our school. Last March, we literally had days to create a virtual “school.” Our school community rallied together and made learning happen for our scholars. We have proven that we are stronger together!
Teeshawn Jones, a native of Baltimore, Md., currently serves as an Instructional Coach at CICS Ralph Ellison High School in Chicago.
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