Reinventing education amid a crisis

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The heroes of the worldwide pandemic are the medical professionals on the front lines who are making untold sacrifices to serve in increasingly difficult circumstances.

For those of us who are educators, we know that many of our students today are the medical professionals of the future. And so just like the health care system has had to revamp itself practically overnight in order to address the current challenges, so too have schools across the country who have launched remote-learning programs.

Paul Powell

At Rochester Prep, our remote-learning program is guided by three fundamental principles. First, that we do everything we can to ensure our families and staff are safe and that we are checking in on their well-being before anything else. Second, that we know parents play many roles but aren’t the primary teachers for their children. As a point of equity, we can’t expect families who are already juggling so much to take on home schooling as well. And third, that despite whatever is happening in the world, we still made a promise to see our students to and through college, and that means we must create a remote-learning program that fulfills that promise.

And so, our top priority when we shut all of our schools on March 13 was to ensure Rochester Prep High School got up and running fast. Our high school students’ last day in the classroom was a Friday, and by the following Tuesday, we made sure they were ready to get online at home to continue their learning. Hundreds of calls and deliveries of equipment and help with getting free online services went into that, because our high school students didn’t have time to waste. The College Board’s Advanced Placement exams are in just a few weeks, and AP exams often act as gatekeepers to certain colleges and scholarships. Our kids literally couldn’t afford for us not to get back to learning.

Our high school attendance rates have been high as teachers have created ways to ensure students stay focused and engaged when kids aren’t right in front of them. Our scholars are showing up in their living rooms and kitchens and completing their work. And we’ve begun to hear from students that the combination of live instruction and recorded video gives them a chance to go at their own pace—and for some of our kids, that’s working out well for them.

Rochester Prep student Aubrey Baker is reading leveled books selected by her teacher on EPIC.
(Photo courtesy of Rochester Prep)

For our younger students in kindergarten through eighth grade, Uncommon Schools created a platform where our master teachers have recorded lessons that are not only compelling, but that we believe will help keep our students on track for the future we all want to see for them. Knowing what a stress it could be to have multiple children at home at the same time without enough devices, we made all of our K-8 lessons recorded, so a child can watch the instruction at the time most convenient for that household.

Rochester Prep is part of Uncommon Schools, and the platform features teachers from all of the high-performing schools that are part of its network.

So, students and families anywhere can see highly skilled Rochester teachers deliver engaging lessons. For instance, they can watch Shaniqua Johnson show off her favorite math earrings before launching into a rigorous fifth-grade lesson on metric conversions. Or, head to the third-grade writing channel to launch into figurative language practice with Jillian Appleby.

Each segment is shorter than a classroom lesson and students submit their work once a week—in any way that works best for them—such as via email or text. The assignments are available to the public as well.

Moving instruction to video that many students can watch at the same time means that only a handful of teachers have to record a lesson, freeing up other teachers to follow up via phone, Zoom or Google Classroom to support all of our learners and make sure 100 percent of them are learning and feel loved. 

Because we’re all in this together, we have decided to make this platform open to the public. According to the Center for Reinventing Public Education, most districts in the U.S. are still not providing any instruction and the majority provide links to general online resources but no direction on how to use them. Across the country, we’re all building this school bus while we drive it—why not make sure we are all sharing what we’re learning at Rochester Prep?

We are inspired by what we’ve seen so far from our students and our staff: They are resilient and committed to our mission, and they will continue to find ways to keep learning while we wait for a return to normalcy.

Paul Powell is assistant superintendent for Uncommon Schools, a network of public charter schools, overseeing Rochester Prep. All Rochester Beacon coronavirus articles are collected here.

One thought on “Reinventing education amid a crisis

  1. Kudos to Uncommon Schools for evidently rising (and rising quickly!) to the challenge!
    Double kudos for the willingness to share….

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