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How One Award-Winning School is Successfully Navigating Remote Learning Space

Maneuvering and adjusting to this new way of education is no small feat. For this North Carolina school things haven’t been easy, but due to their resilient staff and committed students and families, navigating the remote learning space has been a success. Award-winning school Peak Charter Academy has remained steadfast in providing the best education virtually to their students.

Steve Pond, founding principal at Peak, worked diligently to ensure parents and students felt prepared for their return back to school in a remote learning environment. Ahead of the kickoff of the new school year, he delivered informative emails that included guidelines for the 2020-21 school year and videos of himself walking parents through back to school procedures, such as their Meet the Teacher event, what to expect on the first day of school, attendance policies, and technology use and access, to name a few.

One differentiating aspect of Peak’s approach to remote learning is their commitment to live instruction. Scholars are not watching recorded videos, but instead, participating in live class. Teachers have webcams they are utilizing to live instruct, allowing teachers to have real, authentic interactions between students during that specific class period.

Rather than reinventing the wheel and shifting the daily schedule for students, Peak school leaders kept their normal school schedule and built everything off of that. Pond shared that students’ schedules from day one is their class schedule no matter what learning scenario they are in. That way, Peak teachers and leaders can challenge, differentiate, and deliver tiered instruction. With this approach, the school is able to grow their students and support their ongoing academic success.

“When the schools were shut down due to COVID-19 in the spring, we began with real, live instruction since day one,” said Pond. “Students missed no time in the spring or fall and the live instruction creates consistency for teachers and students, which minimizes disruption to their learning environment if we do have to pivot between learning scenarios.”

Take a look at Wes Myrick, physical education teacher at Peak, who is going above and beyond to engage with his students. If you walk down the halls of Peak to the gymnasium, you’ll find Myrick in front of a webcam demonstrating hopping, skipping, pivoting, all while students are practicing with him at home. Pond and school staff encourage parents to let their kids get outside and get moving during their recess time, just as they would if they were spending their day at Peak Charter Academy.

“Our teammates are amazing. Their success with remote learning in the spring helped us and our families to be confident to take that leap again this fall,” Pond shared. “Their consistency and confidence is allowing them to shine as instructional leaders in the virtual world!”

When it comes to school culture and community, the kids are the heartbeat for Peak staff. “Their academic, social, and emotional wellness are what sustains us as educators. Things felt great once we got them back to school, even virtually,” said Pond.

Another distinguishing characteristic of the education provided at Peak Charter Academy is the  “Restore, Refresh, and Renew!” elective for middle school students. Marva Pittman, dean of middle school, created this elective in an effort to address learning loss from the initial school closure in March 2020. Students are assigned to their homeroom teacher and complete a three-week rotation with each content teacher. Teachers will use the Learning Loss Guide provided by National Heritage Academies Curriculum & Instruction Team, as well as data from conversations with the previous teacher to identify standards that need to be reviewed to ensure success for the new year.

“Peak staff is one of the hardest working group of people that I have had the pleasure of working with,” said Pittman. “They strive for excellence, and sometimes perfection. I am so proud of how they have used technology to enhance their teaching to provide the high-quality education our parents and students come to expect from Peak.”

Peak opened in 2017 and since day one has been determined to build a strong foundation of academic success. This commitment has not gone unnoticed by parents, the community, and professional organizations. Most recently, Peak was named a 2020 Model School by The International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE). Prior to this designation, Peak also was named the Best Public School, and Principal Pond was named the Best Elementary Principal, for the second year in a row in Cary Magazine’s annual Maggy Awards. PCA and Principal Pond were honored to be recognized as two of this year's "Blue Ribbon Winners.” Peak was also named the region’s Most Loved Charter School for the past two years by Hulafrog.

Providing a rigorous, challenging, and engaging remote learning experience is no clear-cut task, but Peak demonstrates that staying strong and family-oriented is the way to success.