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CPS, Charter Schools Scramble to Address Pandemic Challenges

By Lyndal Johnson and Araceli Lagunas |  @RedLineProject | Posted: Friday, May 15, 2020

The effort to educate students has not ceased even as it continues within students’ own homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

Administration and staff in Chicago Public School (CPS) and Noble Charter Schools are managing the seemingly impossible task of educating students from afar, yet the tireless effort is not without merit. 

As of April 13, CPS has launched remote learning across the school network, distributing more than 100,000 devices to students in communities around the city. As of April 22, Noble purchased 5,000 Chromebooks for students to keep as they continue using hotspots that will provide six months of free internet access. 

“The challenges we face ahead are unprecedented but not insurmountable,” said Janice K. Jackson, EdD, Chief Executive Officer Chicago Public Schools.

Chicago Public Schools

Teachers have begun to swap their lesson plans to an online format upon COVID-19 challenges. Their goal is ensuring every student is equipped with the proper utensils needed to still achieve their goals.

Alex Holland, a teacher at Benito Juarez Community Academy, said the outbreak has not broken her spirits. Although she has taken the proper steps to ensure she’s safe, Holland’s concern during this period pertains to the wellbeing of her students.

“I was scared,” Holland said. “I’ve never done anything like this before.”

Holland, although technologically savvy, addresses the difficulty with moving her classes online. She highlights how she is conscious of the technological divide with students. 

As the district began ordering things to shift, her concern resided with how feasible it would be in getting her students into the habit of online learning.

“I was most worried about access,” Holland said. “So, I was personally scared because I know not a lot of students have laptops. And the students that do, the family shares that laptop.”

There is a clear disproportion in the allocation of resources throughout the City of Chicago. CPS has addressed how it is accommodating as many families as they can with the proper tools.

Timeline: Chicago Public Schools community updates on coronavirus

“We recognize that a significant digital divide exists in our city and throughout the country, and schools will ensure that families who lack access to technology can utilize printed materials that will be created by the district,” Jackson said. “And while we are taking steps to help ensure instructional resources exist in a variety of formats, we are also taking seriously our responsibility to help narrow that digital divide.”

Benito Juarez began passing out Chromebooks to the students upon the first announcement of school closure for beginning March 17.

As students collected their Chromebooks or physical learning packets (for those without internet access), staff began preparing for the initial reactions to the online process.

With the established connection between her and her students, Holland realized the learning difficulties that’ll be faced from afar.  

“What’s horrible, we didn’t get our students in front of us to explain,” Holland said. “And it was hard because my students are very—they need it in front of them.”

Students now have been forced to recreate their households as a classroom. These students now have to adjust to houses full of family members who can disrupt their learning at any time of the day.

Holland mentions that she posts inspirational messages on the Remind app to encourage her students.

Besides teaching English, Holland works as a post-secondary teacher. Amidst the losses for seniors, Holland to assist them in any way she can on their post-secondary goals.

Letters to students from colleges are still coming in, although staggered. Holland persists in motivating the students to press on as there are still things to look forward to in the future.

Engaging with the Students

While engaging with the students has been a concern for teachers, Kellye Galvan is constructing lessons as a fifth grade teacher. She has even begun including their families in lessons. 

In her class of fifth graders, Galvan works alongside the instructors of Dancing with Class. This is a ten week program that leads to a performance at the Chicago Cultural Center

Due to the school closures, the children were disappointed in hearing that they will no longer dance. The dance instructors and Galvan worked together in proceeding with the lessons online. They encourage the families to dance along which can be a mood lifting activity for everyone. 

“We are currently reading “The Watsons Go To Birmingham,” Galvan said. “We connected the dance styles for our next lessons to the novel. They will learn the Swing and the Twist.” 

Galvan shares that she holds office hours for the students and parents every day from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. She invites parents to express any concerns and provides extra guidance to the students concerning their homework.

The teachers at the West Town elementary school have been provided resources from the counselors that range from topics such as mental health, uplifting videos, community resources, etc. 

She is creating an interactive online classroom.

“We use Google Meet to meet with students three times a week as well as Google Classroom along with the other apps in Google Suites,” Galvan said.

The elementary school holds professional learning meetings once a week for all grade levels starting from K-3 and 4-8. The Instructional Leadership Team meets once a week to check in on the staff’s well being. The principal drops in on Google Classroom to check in on the students as well as holds office hours. 

The school community is progressively moving forward in ensuring they give their students the best. 

Noble Charter Schools

Teachers Take Charge

As the shift from classroom interaction to online learning transpired, teachers were set out on trying to make this a smooth transition for students. 

A teacher at ITW Speer Academy, Lisette Garcia, addressed how the network was preparing the teachers for this new way of learning. 

 “We all sensed that there could possibly be a school closure,” Garcia said. 

Timeline: Noble Charter Schools community updates on coronavirus

The Friday before the announcement was made, the Administration Team sent out homework packets for each class and paperwork to the students.

The Administration Team in all Noble campuses ensured to send out a survey to students to see who would need a laptop and internet access.

As a way to help all families in Chicago, they are distributing meals in order to reach every community that surrounds a Noble campus. Thus far, they have distributed more than 50,000 meals. 

Since Noble’s Spring Break was the Week of April 6th, the teachers were already implementing the next 3 weeks of coursework online. Garcia shares that the online programs the students use are Google Suites, Zoom, and Screencast-O-Matic

Students were assigned 240 minutes of coursework per day. Her campus assigned two assignments and two extra credit assignments along with teaching new lessons. 

“I try to include wellness activities, such as creating a 100-word story that allows students to express themselves and connect with grammar-based lessons,” Garcia said.

At moments like this, mental health is important. The students are contacted by their advisors every week. 

Teachers spoke to parents on the phone for report card pick up. Garcia shared the appreciation parents expressed in knowing that they are not alone and their children’s education is in good hands.

The communication around the campus has been “great and helpful.”

The dean of instruction checks in with teachers and reviews the lesson plans. Weekly emails are sent from the principal with updates and resources to improve the learning environment. 

As far as how the next school year is looking, teachers are worried about their students’ development.

“I assume that we will have to reteach past lessons the first two months of class before we start new lessons to ensure the kids are at a good place,” Garcia said. “There will be a lot of collaboration amongst teachers and unknownness going into the 2020-2021 school year.” 

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