This Charter School Prepared for Distance Learning Ahead of Time and It’s Paying Off For Students

May 18, 2020 12:37:00 PM


As COVID-19 has forced schools across the country to adapt to remote learning, Perspectives Charter School teacher Andrew Rosenblat has led a recent technological revolution at his campus.

A Chicago native, Rosenblat spent the last few years teaching in Australia, where he was trained in how to help struggling learners catch up to grade-level. This work involved using technology to ensure that students had more access to classroom content from any location—no matter how remote. 

Pre-Coronavirus: Building a Base to Learn from Anywhere

Earlier this year, Rosenblat brought these strategies to his new job at Perspectives’ Rodney D. Joslin campus where he teaches English language arts to freshmen and sophomores. Rosenblat put all of his classes on Google Classroom so students can learn and understand the structure and flow of the content from anywhere. Rosenblat said,

I strongly believe in giving students access to materials, lessons and support. For me, this goes beyond just the classroom. One of the biggest things for me is missed work because of absences. I know that there are always family struggles, sleepy days, mental health days and/or sick days that cause students to miss school. I never want those days to cause additional stress for students to make up work and play catch up.

After he taught his lessons, Rosenblat would post his PowerPoint presentation, along with any related assignments, on Google Classroom. Students could then complete their assignments at home or anywhere they have Wi-Fi. Little did he know, these actions would soon move from a convenience to a necessity for Perspectives students.

Preparing for Pandemic: Setting up the school for remote learning

As the world moved into February and nervously watched the Coronavirus pandemic sweep across the globe, teachers and staff knew it would only be a matter of time before the virus came to Chicago, an international travel hub. In mid-March, Perspectives school leaders proactively surveyed students to see who had access to technology at home and came up with a plan to print thousands of take-home packets for students. Perspectives leaders asked Mr. Rosenblat to share his Google Classroom setup with school staff, in the case that some students could have access to the internet. Rosenblat said,

We were able to move to online remote learning easily and efficiently. We already had some discussions about using a better digital system to give students access to the material. So I think the admin team was already in this mindset when they realized the schools would be closing. We got all the students on Google Classroom quickly before the closure happened.

While school administrators covered his classes, Mr. Rosenblat went from classroom to classroom, getting every single student signed into an account. That was the week before schools closed. 

COVID-19 shuts down Chicago schools: The first two weeks

By Tuesday, March 17, all Chicago public school buildings were closed, but thanks to the prep done by Perspectives, most students logged into their Google Classrooms and resumed learning that week. Because they had a strong structure while they were in school, they were able to maintain that same learning structure outside of school. While state- and city-level leaders grappled with how long to keep students out of school, Perspectives teachers taught their two weeks of lessons that they planned earlier in the month. Rosenblat said,

Our leadership had extraordinary foresight that schools would be closing, The leadership took that time to develop materials to send home to students, while the teachers worked on carrying out the work they already planned. It took a lot of stress off our backs during the initial closure and allowed us to focus on our students, socially and emotionally.

Running remote into the spring

Students in Illinois will not be returning to their schools this school year and it is unclear what school will look like this fall. What is clear, though, is that Perspectives teachers are prepared to continue to deliver on their mission of preparing students for college and life. The week before Spring Break, teachers met (remotely) to discuss what classes would look like after the week off. They decided to take an ambitious approach and teach their students the same new content that they were planning for the spring, but modify it to be virtual. 

Mr. Rosenblat had planned on teaching a unit of argumentative essays, but he shifted to focus on argumentative analysis and more project-based learning that involves as much student interaction as possible while they’re spending so much time apart. They’re planning to watch a play and debate parts of it online. 

I am not a big fan of learning online, I like that face to face interaction, the socialness of it. I wanted to bring some of that to what we were doing online. Lots of collaboration, digital creations, using materials the kids already love and are passionate about ... Project-based, real applications are the way to go with digital learning.

This rapid shift to remote learning is something that most teachers around the world are grappling with right now. They’ve had to reimagine what education looks like. But at Perspectives, they had a head start. And that head start has allowed for more students to continue their education and a sense of normalcy throughout this crisis.

Maureen Kelleher

Maureen Kelleher is Editorial Director at Future Ed. She was formerly Editorial Partner at Ed Post and is a veteran education reporter, a former high school English teacher, and also the proud mom of an elementary student in Chicago Public Schools. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. Between 1998 and 2006 she was an associate editor at Catalyst Chicago, the go-to magazine covering Chicago’s public schools. There, her reporting won awards from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the International Reading Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.

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