Students and staff have been back to school for several weeks at Buffalo United Charter School (BUCS), which has provided an opportunity to adjust and get accustomed to the new norms of learning in a non-traditional environment.
School leaders share the key things they have learned along the way and reflect on the events and activities they hosted to set up their school community for success. One major hurdle centered around ensuring scholars had access to the materials and tools required to learn in a remote space.
“Giving equitable access was definitely a challenge,” Jaime Peld, dean of sixth- through eight-grade at BUCS. “The other major trend would be just the way that students and staff are responding to working together in the virtual setting. A lot of teachers have had to learn digital tools very quickly.”
To arm students with the necessary technology, BUCS hosted a material pickup night for families and invited parents and guardians to attend. During the event, families were encouraged to participate in one-on-one technology training with teachers, to collect classwork materials for their students, and to meet and greet with staff.
“Throughout the end of August and the first days of September, the BUCS team worked tirelessly to prepare and distribute materials to all of the K-8 families in preparation for the 2020-21 school year,” said Teresa Gerchman, principal at Buffalo United. “It was this effort that made our first two weeks of instruction run as smoothly as possible. Despite the challenges we face with remote learning, BUCS staff showed up to take the challenge head-on.”
Following the training and material pick-up events, students also were given extra time to adjust over the first week back. Teachers built additional time into their schedules to work with students and make sure they are comfortable logging on and navigating the online space.
“Overall our teachers and our students are showing a lot of perseverance and grit by being able to problem solve and not losing their cool and become frustrated when they have issues with technology,” said Andrea Cwynar, third- through fifth-grade dean at BUCS. “That was one of our biggest trials. Teachers are working around the clock to help parents, as well as younger students to deal with technology questions as they come up.”
Not surprisingly, the school experienced more trials with their younger students as they worked to build comfortability in the online learning space. Teachers were intentional about working with these students to help them become more fluent and secure. Older students, those who are enrolled at the middle school level and who have more experience working with technology, are making a smoother transition.
“Middle school students are responding really well, said Peld. “They're utilizing the chat boxes responsibly, asking for help and advocating for themselves, and they are also doing breakout rooms really well when we are cooperatively working together.”
Aiming to obtain a continued gauge on their students’ understanding throughout the lessons, teachers are looking for creative tools to adjust their teaching style to best fit the remote learning space. Many are incorporating apps into their daily routines.
“There are different apps that teachers are using that create engaging lessons, which check for understanding throughout every class,” said Peld. “It’s important that we continue having intentional face-to-face with adults and still being able to have that social-emotional piece to feel more connected. We've had several of our eighth graders tell our school counselors they appreciate just being able to have that downtime and having conversations with them.
Additionally, there have been notable shifts in the teamwork dynamic. Cynar reflected that she has noticed increased collaboration amongst her colleagues. “Seeing the multiple apps that teachers are making and learning with each other so they can collaborate with teachers who normally wouldn't have collaborated together,” she said. “Overall this has forced a betterment of this whole school community.”