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Three Examples: Elementary Charters Instructing Young Children at a Distance

• Sam Duell

To wrap up this unusual National Charter Schools Week, we have been thinking about some of our youngest and most vulnerable learners: students attending elementary grades. How are charter schools supporting families and student instructional needs during this time?

As we previously mentioned, charter schools are different, even from each other. They serve students in different contexts and are responding to pandemic impacts in numerous ways. CRPE and NAPCS are both researching how charter schools and their networks have responded to the closure of buildings.

Here are three examples of how elementary charters are continuing to provide instructional services to some of their youngest students. The information provided below was gathered from publicly available sources. It is quite possible these schools are doing much more than this, but I will use this information to demonstrate the importance of understanding that there are different types of distance learning.

  1. Crossroads Charter School (Quality Hill), a K-5 elementary in Kansas City, Missouri, is providing weekly work packets for their students. They also publish a weekly parent letter to discuss what is coming next. The most recent letter begins with a discussion about contingencies for the fall.

In the world of distance learning, we might call the distribution of work packets asynchronous learning – a workflow that can take place at a time and place of the student’s choosing.

  1. Wayman Academy of the Arts in Jacksonville, Florida, publishes detailed grade-level, daily schedules for students. For example, their first graders start the day with a mindful exercise at 8:00 am, then dig into a writing prompt by 8:15, and they are expected to jump online by 9:15. This K-5 charter school also relies heavily on ClassDojo, an app that allows teachers and families to build online communities.

Wayman’s model uses both asynchronous and synchronous learning.

  1. Detroit Prep teachers reported a few weeks ago that they check-in with their young students through Zoom, FaceTime and phone calls in order to continue providing their students with Art, Dance and Spanish

When teachers provide art lessons, dance lessons or Spanish class directly to students on Zoom or FaceTime, we call this synchronous learning – instruction that takes place with a teacher in real time.

Students and teachers have been interacting at great distances for as long as we’ve had mail. Distance learning is not anything new. However, synchronous distance learning is relatively new and can only really occur when it is facilitated by technology – like access to phone service or the internet.

This is exactly why the digital divide is so damaging during the current pandemic. When students don’t have access to their teachers in real time, they risk missing out on opportunities (like art or dance) they would have had if they were physically in the school building. Without digital resources, some students have more access to their teachers—in all subjects—than other students. This is an inequity that can and should be addressed.

About the author

Sam Duell

Before Sam joined ExcelinEd as the Associate Policy Director for Charter Schools, he was a special education teacher, a school and central office administrator, the Executive Director of School Choice at Oklahoma’s department of education and the Managing Director of OPSRC’s Education Collaborative. In every position, Sam worked creatively to meet student needs. He founded the Integrated Support Program at Fischer Middle School in San Jose, California to increase the number and percentage of students with learning disabilities who have access to the general education classroom. He was the first administrator of Oklahoma’s Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, the authorizer for online schools in Oklahoma. And he co-founded a statewide afterschool network called the Oklahoma Partnership for Expanded Learning to organize and advocate for expanded learning opportunities after school and during the summer. Sam’s current interests include charter schools and their role in a functional, thriving democracy.