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NHA Schools Turn to Remote Learning to Continue Building Connections

Jessica Meldrum  |  April 03, 2020

Starting her day to the sound of an early morning alarm clock, followed by a relaxing self-care meditation and yoga session before firing up her computer to begin video streaming with students is the new norm. This is a look at the “quarantine routine” of one National Heritage Academies (NHA) teacher, and she’s not alone, many teachers across the country are adjusting to their new normal amidst the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

Jasmine Rogers, kindergarten through fourth-grade STEAM teacher at Brooklyn Scholars Charter School, shared that over the past several weeks, she’s adjusted her daily schedule to maintain the momentum of the curriculum she was teaching before the pandemic. She’s faced the challenge that many educators are now taking on – adapting their curriculum to engage students in an online environment. Rogers has turned to educational programs that focus on real-life science such as animal habitats and behaviors to keep her students focused and engaged.

“Throughout the week, I have received photos and videos with parents exclaiming that their little ones were so excited to act out these animals on camera,” shared Rogers. “Parents have thanked me for finding ways to help their scholars learn something new and keeping them entertained while cooped up indoors.”

While the transition to distanced, or remote learning hasn’t been without its hurdles, many school leaders are sharing that the benefits outweigh the challenges. “Making sure our students feel connected in some way – it’s very important,” said Stacey Jovanovski, dean of lower elementary at Prevail Academy. “90-95% of our families have been active in online learning. Even if it helps one student, it’s worth it.”

Schools across NHA have experienced success in this transition. Jen Littlefield, principal at Apex Academy, shared that her teachers have been able to connect with 98% of their families virtually. Her team has been actively utilizing a variety of tools, from Google Classroom and Google Meets, to FaceTime. Apex staff also sent home written packets to get kids started as they navigated through the online access tools. 

“Each dean has a Google Classroom for their teachers,” said Littlefield. “We collect data, evidence of learning, and parent communication logs so we know where we are and who needs assistance.” She also stressed the importance of encouraging her staff and families to unplug in the evenings and enjoy a device-free dinner or two.

Monserrat Polanco, paraprofessional at Brooklyn Scholars, shared a glimpse into how she is working in collaboration with other staff members and teachers to transition into this virtual teaching model. “It’s been challenging, we’ve been tracking and monitoring students’ work to connect and support each student individually,” she said. Through the challenges, however, these trying times are bringing schools together more now than ever. “The collaboration has always been there, but the connection between staff members has been stronger and this has strengthened our relationships and is bringing us all together.”

In coming together and creating a space that’s nurturing for not only students but also for teachers, Sabrina Terenzi, principal of Plymouth Scholars Charter Academy, shared that it’s been great connecting with her staff while everyone has been away from the school. She arranges virtual staff meetings with her team of over 60 staff members, and they are eager to join and have the ability to connect with their colleagues.

“It’s all about people needing to feel emotionally safe, and we are doing that through these videos and constant communication,” she said. “This whole situation has shown how much relationships mean in my school.”

The need for feeling emotionally safe also creates a new dynamic for NHA’s social workers, who also are required to adjust their day-to-day. Charlotte Borner, social worker at Brooklyn Scholars, is focusing on consistency throughout these changes. She shared that when working with students, she aims to keep everything as similar as possible to what her scholars are used to.

Reflecting on her work, she shared that transitioning her work virtually has been the most difficult. “I rely heavily on activities like games, worksheets, drawing and coloring, and therapy sand, among others. Of course, almost none of this is available to use over the internet or phone. What has been most useful has been using the “screen share” option online and showing the scholar a worksheet or activity that I found online and working together on it,” she said.

That reality has sparked creativity for all staff members who are trying their best to make this work in a unique situation. “It has created new networks and opportunities for resource sharing among the staff and even city-wide,” said Borner. “It has also exposed many of our students to new practices and forced them out of their comfort zone.”

Throughout the first several weeks, transitioning to remote learning at NHA, each school community has taken a unique approach to stay engaged and connected with their families. Whether it was an online Lego building challenge featuring the school’s principal like Prevail Academy, a live-streamed science project like Plymouth Scholars, or a drive-thru parade like Johnston Charter Academy, each NHA school remains committed to ensuring scholars are supported emotionally and educationally.

Keep up the great work everyone, you are making a difference in the lives of NHA’s scholars!