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Atlanta Heights Charter School Knows No Bounds for Creativity and Perseverance

As the school year continues in a non-traditional format, including hybrid learning models and students logging in remotely to participate in their lessons, teachers at Atlanta Heights Charter School continue thinking outside of the box to plan lessons that are engaging for students.
 
Focusing on finding students where they tend to navigate organically, one teacher created an impressive Instagram presence to connect with his students. Mr. Deonte Bridges developed an Instagram page where he posts daily information from his class. These posts are centered around social-emotional learning and also offer quick snapshots of important lessons from inside the classroom.
 
The posts range from fun and quirky memes, featuring Bridges’ Bitmoji character, to informative graphics that outline classroom material such as tips to write an argumentative essay, or breaking down different kinds of sentences. ​​​​​​​


 
Ms. Alisha Fisher, principal at AHCS, shared that incorporating social media into the classroom in a controlled environment is especially important for middle school students who are engrossed in social media in their personal lives. “It’s been a fun way of keeping them connected,” she said.
 
Mrs. Sharel Johnson, who is known throughout the building for engaging her students in instructional materials, also is stretching the limits of a traditional learning environment by recently starting the “Blazettes Dance Cub,” a virtual dance class for students. The school’s mascot is the Trailblazers, so fittingly, the Blazettes is an all-girl dance group that meets virtually to get up and moving. On average about 40 students participate every week!


 
Not missing a beat, the school also recently introduced Wellness Wednesdays into their normal practices. These are aimed primarily at engaging staff in a healthful practice to help alleviate stress during these challenging times. Examples of activities include mindfulness practices, yoga, and meditation. “This is something to keep our school connected as a whole,” said Fisher. In the future, AHCS plans to offer a similar structure for its students, at this time, this program is primarily focused on the emotional wellbeing of the staff.
 
“AHCS’s Wellness Wednesday was implemented to preserve both our teachers and scholars-to get a break from the screen time,” said Fisher. She shared that these activities work to foster social and emotional wellness, to promote healthy lifestyles, to integrate mindfulness and meditation practices, and to decrease teacher burnout, among others. ​​​​​​​


 
To incorporate AHCS’s families and students into the wellness mix, Atlanta Heights’ Rayketta McCurtis, developed a social-emotional learning website that provides vital resources for parents and students. Resources like meditation and mindfulness have been embedded there for families and students to access whenever they need it. Their next step includes beginning to offer Wellness Wednesdays throughout the year. “We are trying to get to the heart of where our students are,” shared Fisher.
 
Additionally, the school has been thinking creatively in terms of hosting distanced events. The staff recently hosted an Ice Cream Social in a drive-thru format. The goal of the evening was to safely meet with parents and provide them with curriculum and materials. During the event, students were also given the opportunity to meet with their teachers in a safe way.


 
Overall, teachers and staff throughout the school remain committed to staying in contact with their students by whatever means possible. From social media to Google classroom, teachers continue finding innovative ways to stay connected.
 
In the coming weeks, Atlanta Heights will begin the transition from its current remote learning model to a fully in-person, five days per week, learning environment. With this model, the school will phase in groups of students in separate weeks. As the school begins approach returning in an in-person environment they are focused on offering a staggered approach to help ease the transition. “We have to change the way we view school,” Fisher said. “It’s a shift in mindset and a shift in culture. The first two weeks in-person will focus on best practices and a safe transition.”​​​​​​​
 
While the primary focus is on the safety precautions that will be put into place, Fisher shared that they also are focusing on the excitement of the kids as they return to school.


 
School leaders don’t want to take away the excitement of returning to in-person learning. “It’s been a long time since March when we last were able to learn in-person together,” said Fisher. “We are approaching this as an opportunity to get out students in and out safely while looking at everything in a positive light.”
 
Realistically, she also shared that the school anticipates having students and families who choose to remain in their remote learning environment. “I want to continue to bridge the gap and connect the kids who are face-to-face and virtual so there’s not a social gap,” she said. “I want to make sure we offer equity for kids no matter which learning option they choose.”