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Stambaugh Charter Academy: Strong No Matter the Distance

With just shy of one month under their belts in the new school year, staff and students at Stambaugh Charter Academy are adjusting to their new routines. Among these adjustments, most notably is the number of students learning in the building versus at home. About half of the school’s population opted to learn remotely, while the other half is focusing on in-person education with smaller class sizes.

Stambaugh’s staff is diligently focusing on making lessons fun and engaging while teaching in these new spaces. In adapting to the new teaching models, teachers and school leaders noted one major benefit to smaller classroom sizes, both in-person and remotely: teachers are given the flexibility to focus more on the needs of individual learners.

“We’ve experienced a focus on individualizing learning,” said Holly Hillary, principal at Stambaugh Charter Academy. “Each day we are coming up with new ideas and sharing them out. It has really amped up student engagement.”

While there are definite positives to learning in this new space, the staff agrees that it’s been an adjustment having half of the student population learning at home versus in person. “It feels disconcerting not having them in our building,” said Hillary. “As educators, we want a strong bond and relationship with our students, even if they aren’t in the building.”

Liz Danyi, kindergarten teacher at Stambaugh, agrees. “Covid has definitely thrown us a major curveball, but we are teachers and the best thing about teachers is our ability and willingness to adapt,” she said.

Danyi reflected that while it has been a tough transition, teaching in the remote learning space has had some definite positives. “The best thing about hybrid learning is the ability to get to spend more individualized time with each student; getting to know them and teaching to their specific academic needs. It’s also provided a necessity for teachers and parents to communicate more frequently.”

From in-person students working with stacking blocks to practice counting, to remote students participating in read-alouds as a group and sharpening their independent reading skills, students are engaged in owning their learning. “For my staff, they're really working hard to make the lessons fun by doing things like singing or dancing. We might have several kids on a screen, but teachers are individualizing lessons for each student,” said Hillary. “Each day we're coming up with new ideas and we're sharing them out but for us, this is just the beginning.”

Aside from the adjustments the school has made inside its classrooms, the staff has been deliberate about ensuring the students who are learning at home receive the same high-quality experience. Stambaugh recently hosted a material pick-up day that allowed students who are learning remotely to visit the school and pick materials that in-house students typically get, such as whiteboards and markers. “When you’re at home, you may not have the right supplies,” explained Hillary. “It’s also fun for students to write on the whiteboards, it helps them feel like they are at school.”

Hillary explained that by providing these basic supplies, students who are learning at home also have access to the tools to help them succeed. “We’ve aimed to make sure families have all the materials and support they need,” she said. Additionally, Stambaugh’s deans have kept busy building and providing students with virtual learning kits, filled with supplies labeled with students’ names, containing further helpful materials.

Making sure students are prepared with supplies is only half the battle, so Stambaugh also has offered technology training at orientation to work through the hurdles of getting logged in and navigating online learning. These trainings walk families and students through the platforms and tools they are using, making sure everyone understands the schedules and how to access assignments and other resources. Hillary explained that it’s sometimes easier for younger students who only have one remote teacher. Staff focused their attention on middle school students who rotate between classes, ensuring they know how to navigate their schedules.

“We utilize videos to help students learn the platforms and how to attach assignments, to make sure they're actually engaged in their lessons or who is working offline,” said Hillary. “There have been a lot of different components that are coming together at once. I feel like they're doing a really nice job with it.”

Teachers also have been working meticulously to aid students during this transitional learning period. Many have found that adapting and allowing a sense of flexibility for their remote learners has been crucial. “To be successful, I am providing ‘live’ documentation for attendance and recording videos to keep parents informed and up to date,” said Michelle Cella, second-grade teacher at Stambaugh. “I try to keep in mind that parents may not be on the same schedule we are. I continue to adapt and evolve with each new day, it's definitely a challenge.”

Overall, through navigating these uncharted waters, Hillary is pleased to see how far her school has come in just a few short weeks. “Every day we get another child online is an accomplishment,” she said. “They’ve gone so long without structure and just to be back at it and get them caught up is a blessing. I'm just proud to be a part of this, even during these unprecedented times. I feel like we're making a difference.”