Schools up to the challenges of closures

By Mike Long

We are in the middle of an unprecedented virtual learning experience in North Carolina, and quite frankly, beyond our state lines, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Here at home, our public schools are currently closed through May 15 and might be cancelled through the remainder of the school year. That means school, for the majority of our state’s students, might not officially start up again until late August.

Despite the challenges families are facing regarding widespread school closures, many schools in the Tar Heel state are stepping up to provide robust virtual learning environments for their students. I have chatted with several of them during the past few weeks, and those conversations have been uplifting, to say the least.

Small class sizes in these schools of choice has definitely helped out, as Amanda Carter of Noble Academy in Greensboro shared with me. Noble’s students were already well connected to Google Classroom and an online learning environment, so the switch has not been chaotic. Teachers did not have to spend a lot of time learning new technologies, either.

Because Noble is specifically designed for students with learning challenges, the school had to pivot to provide extra support for kids in making the executive functioning decisions needed for online school. Teachers use special logs to show progress on daily assignments and covered topics in class each day.

Are you a school leader who needs additional resources for how to navigate these unprecedented times? Check out our Resources for School Leaders page.

Similarly, Mariashi Groner of Charlotte Jewish Day told me her school is using Zoom and Google Meet to bring students together. The school provides instructional videos that are viewable anytime, and learners are videoing their assignment responses back so that teachers can correct and offer feedback. Longleaf School of the Arts in Raleigh is an example of a public charter school creating a virtual classroom with Zoom as well.

“We have been really preparing for a moment like this for some time,” says Dr. Andrew Harris of Northeast Academy in Elizabeth City. This public charter school is focused on equipping students for STEM careers.

Establishing a sense of normalcy is crucial as well. Beth Covolo of Rocky Mount Academy shared that her school plans to have a “spirit week” soon where all of the live video content will feature things like crazy hat day so that kids can laugh and experience a sense of normalcy again. Charlotte Jewish Day School is conducting a shabbat Sabbath assembly every Friday morning—to keep the celebrations going and to reduce the isolation families experience.

Other schools of choice are going the extra mile and becoming hubs for spreading good—like PAVE Charter School in southeast Raleigh. The school serves as a food distribution center to ensure families are fed in these trying times. We had the privilege of tagging along (in a safe manner, of course) for a day with the incredible team at PAVE. Watch that story here.

Of course, no one was perfectly prepared for this catastrophic virus. But schools of choice have been laying the groundwork for a long time now to establish technology in a way that makes the current crisis less costly in terms of education. We should celebrate them!

In these unprecedented and unpredictable times, Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina is here as a resource. We’ve created landing pages to serve as a conduit to help both schools and parents navigate education during the coronavirus crisis. If we can help you, don’t hesitate to reach out at [email protected] or 919-871-1084.