Educators, like everyone else, have pivoted in the last 11 months. No one expected to shift from in-person to remote learning so quickly. With any change, there are growing pains and lessons learned. It can also bring opportunities.
At Martin Luther King Jr. Middle, Principal Nemal Patel saw that attendance was suffering. To support his families and teachers, he assembled a team of his school social workers, behavior modification technicians and administrators to tackle the issue. Each week, he and the team chose 27 students with inconsistent attendance to connect with and track.
"Middle school can be a challenge for families during a regular school year. This is a critical developmental period for children, marked by learning and growth for parents and students. Parents want to support their children but also want them to start being more independent," said Patel. "Add a pandemic and virtual learning to the equation and the home-to-school communications and relationship are even more crucial."
There are many reasons a student might not log into class. Sometimes, it's as simple as getting them a hotspot or a Chromebook. Other times, the student may be struggling with assignments or with their schedule. Other students are dealing with hardships or difficult family situations.
School staff worked to identify students who needed a Chromebook, hotspots or device repairs. If connectivity was an issue, students received printed packets while the issues were resolved. Teachers worked with their homeroom classes to ensure all students were familiar with their virtual schedules and log-ins.
The team Patel assembled provided more intense and focused support. They would go into their assigned students' Zoom classes to see if they were present. They would also look for patterns. Was the student skipping one class or certain classes or an entire day? The information helped them ask the right questions when reaching out to families.
"Once we know the needs or barriers, we can address them," said Jennifer Coates, school social worker. "We are here to help and connect our families to the right resources."
Coates spoke to parents who saw their child online as they were leaving to work and did not realize their child was gaming or surfing the internet rather than going to class.
"We've had great parent support and student engagement once they were made aware of the situation," said Coates. "We don't want our families to see us as adversaries or bearers of bad news. We also make it a point to reach out when the student is improving."
When the team sees a student is back on track, they send an email with encouraging words. They want students to know their absence is noticed but so is their presence and effort. Patel said this is one way to help students build good habits and show them they have an advocate.
"We are a community school. People don't just want to hear that; they want to see it in action," said Patel. "We've all had to make adjustments and we’ve learned a lot. There are many strategies we will continue to use even when we return to in-person learning."
Middle and high school students not in the Full Remote Academy return to in-person learning on Monday, Feb. 22.