In the wake of transitioning to remote learning, staff and leaders at Milwaukee Scholars Charter School are now able to take a breath after the whirlwind period adapting to this new online space. The glue that has held it all together has been the collaborative efforts by leaders and Milwaukee’s teachers.
“I’ve never seen our building as strong as it is right now,” said Elizabeth Haws, dean of upper elementary at Milwaukee Scholars. “Throughout this period, we’ve really come together as a staff and I am extremely proud of the work we are doing.”
While the transition hasn’t been without its challenges, Milwaukee’s teachers have risen to the challenge to find unique ways to continue connecting with their students. The techniques vary by grade-level, with older scholars utilizing more advanced technology than the lower grades, but one thing remains the same: teachers are reaching out to their scholars to create virtual connections to ensure education continues.
“The majority of our families are essential workers,” said Haws. “It’s been difficult for these families to balance, but we’ve had some exciting things like our kids logging hours online and focusing on read-aloud instruction.”
Making sure all students had access to remote learning technology was another hurdle that Milwaukee Scholars’ staff was eager to tackle. Marissa Meier, first-grade teacher, created remote learning kits for each of her students and delivered them individually, to the students in her class.
Each scholar received a hardcover book, either “Beauty and the Beast” or “Chewie and the Porgs,” a coloring page, an activity chart, chalk, mechanical pencils, stickers, prizes, and a letter to their parents or guardians.
“I have a lot of scholars who were having a tough time not being able to see everyone, so I just wanted to do something to make their day a little brighter,” said Meier. “It was a great opportunity to show scholars that I was still here for them, even if we don't see each other every day, as well as to touch base with families and let them know that they are doing a great job and that I am here to support them however I can.”
She wasn’t alone in her efforts to make the shift to remote learning more normal. Looking back to before the closure began, Ryan Kirkconnell, music teacher at Milwaukee Scholars, reflected that “because the situation developed so rapidly, we were caught off guard by the announcement that schools would be closing.”
With just days to prepare, he and many other Milwaukee Scholars teachers pulled together to make the transition work. “I had to start from scratch thinking about what kinds of lessons I could provide to the students. Music classes normally consisted of singing songs together or playing instruments, but outside of our regular classroom, we no longer had access to our instruments or each other,” said Kirkconnell.
Kirkconnell works in collaboration with the various grade-level homeroom teachers to provide remote learning material. The lessons include interactive portions that direct students to watch a clip of a musician playing an instrument, followed by questions to complete.
“The remote lessons have been focused on exploring music technology and STEM connections,” he said. “We’ve experimented with a spectrogram, which creates a visual representation of the sonic differences between, say, a trombone and a harp. We've also checked out some of the basic tools modern musicians use to compose music with a computer.”
To keep things interesting for students, teachers also are hosting Culture Building lessons, such as virtual Bingo or Kahoot, to encourage students to log in and interact with their classmates. Recently, nearly 20 students from the school’s fifth-grade class logged on for a round of virtual Kahoot to test their knowledge on a variety of topics. “Fifth grade had the highest engagement during a live session so far,” said Haws. “It was exciting!”
School leaders have made an effort to try to create a sense of normalcy for students during these times by continuing to offer special elective courses, like music, art, and gym. “It’s important to provide support and normalcy for our students,” said Haws. “Just seeing a familiar face provides a sense of normalcy for the student.”
These personal exchanges allow for direct student-to-teacher interaction, in a setting that is comfortable for the student. “When an assignment is turned in they [the teacher] provide feedback by phone or through Google Meet,” said Haws. “Our teachers are working hard, consistently focusing on growing those kids. I’m proud of our school for how they have handled remote learning.”
Also during the closure, Milwaukee Scholars made the best of celebrating and appreciating their administrative staff by virtually celebrating Administrative Professionals Week. Throughout the week, staff members were encouraged to show their appreciation by participating in a different celebration, beginning by sending a personal card by “snail mail” to the admin professional’s house. Moving through the week, other events included a family game night, video montage, a thank you parade with decorated cars, all leading up to a lunch delivery on Friday.
The school’s leaders also celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week from afar with a variety of events to honor and recognize the hard work their teachers are currently doing in this remote learning space and throughout the year. Every year, one week in May is designated as a special time to honor those who lend their passion and skills to educating children. This year the observance took place from May 4 through May 8, and teachers and staff from Milwaukee Scholars were honored with a special video, a free lunch that was delivered to their door, a spirit day, encouraging teachers to dress up as their favorite board game, and a relaxing meditation and yoga class, to name a few.