Learning is the Litmus Test
by Michelle Grubert
While many schools around the country are reeling over how to roll out their fourth-quarter curricula remotely, the buoyant and resourceful teachers and students of two Prescott public charter schools are maneuvering adeptly through the pandemic’s obstacles and continuing to foster great learning.
Skyview School and Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy recognize a child’s intrinsic desire to learn. They help students discover how uniquely capable and creative they are. In this new world of remote schooling, these students remain actively engaged and are moving forward with resilience.
Relevant assignments boost engagement
Alex Rosansky, a Skyview middle-school teacher, opened this new remote-learning experience by whetting his students’ curiosity with a language-arts unit called Zombie Apocalypse. He brilliantly wove the pop-culture allure for this genre into the academic exploration of the history of pandemics, natural disasters, and emergency preparedness.
The students synthesized their research and created unique final projects that illustrated what they learned in traditional essays, video, graphic novels, slideshows and websites.
Jeff Cooper, a parent of one of Mr. Alex’s students, observed the happy consequence of being a co-educator of his son, Ryan, and sharing in his learning experience. “We were very nervous about ‘homeschooling’…, but because all of you [teachers] adapted so quickly and provided such topical, interactive assignments, it has spun this terrible situation into a really magical time for us ..., one that we will never forget.”
Northpoint social-science teacher Robert Zinni and his class are creating Pandemic Time Capsule Journal 2020, a Google doc where they upload poetry and art that express their emotions and how they are navigating life during the pandemic.
Northpoint chemistry teacher Adrienne Carey is teaching her nutrition curriculum in a way that acknowledges immediate student needs. She has asked them to evaluate their sleep, exercise, and eating patterns while stuck at home, knowing it is all too tempting for teenagers to sleep the day away, consume junk food and get sucked into their devices, to the detriment of their mental and physical wellbeing.
During this time of year Northpoint students usually participate in “intensives,” a semester of elective classes rolled into an exciting, comprehensive three weeks. The staff provides nontraditional elective options for the students, who then dive deep into experiential learning, travel, and exploration of topics outside the standard curriculum.
Students were very disappointed that the pandemic caused the cancellation of the Northpoint 2020 intensive to Germany. The teachers did not disappoint, however, when they offered new remote-learning electives, including The Science of Happiness, Filling the Silence: Music Theory and Song Creation, and Leaving Home — a Creative Writing Adventure to uplift the spirit and use this stay-at-home time to grow and flourish.
When the work has purpose, students take ownership
Students of Skyview and Northpoint know that learning is more than acquiring information for their personal development. They see themselves as active citizens of the community — that their learning, their work, and their creativity can contribute to a better world.
During the last quarter of the school year, Skyview teacher Ashley Fine and her third- and fourth-grade students would normally have been creating a living museum in the Skyview habitat garden, where students would serve as docents teaching about the native plants and wildlife that depend on them. Those endeavors won’t happen this season, but Ms. Fine continues to inspire her students to be mindful stewards of the Earth with her learn-at-home assignments.
Her students are raking leaves for compost, examining their yards and creating garden designs that best use water, joining forces with the Great Sunflower Project by contributing pollinator counts from the plants in their yards, and developing projects that address current environmental issues for the 2020 Prescott Area Earth Challenge.
When cared for, students thrive
Growth and learning happen best (perhaps only) when students feel safe, respected, and honored. The rapport built between the teachers and students at Northpoint and Skyview has been a foundation for continuing student support during this pandemic. Northpoint’s “crew classes” provide this connection.
Student Lily Grubert describes “crew” as a “sense of family with students from different grades, where we have lots of conversations and you can always be yourself, express yourself, and feel everything you’re feeling.” Zoom meetings with “crew teachers” are helping high-schoolers process these strange and anxiety-provoking times.
Adrienne Carey assigns each crew student a partner to check in with each week for continuous peer support.
Skyview arts teachers Lisa Hendrickson and Breanna Rogers have made an art of fostering self-awareness and expression. They designed at-home learning assignments that offer students space to reflect on their personal experiences of the pandemic.
Some of the student artists are exploring the ideas of confinement and passageways by drawing portals. Others will have original hand-washing dance videos to document their experience.
In a variety of creative ways, Skyview has demonstrated to its students and parents that staff is invested in them even though they may be separated physically. They implemented Zoom Parent Tea meetings and a Facebook page to offer home-teaching support to families.
One staff member, Jenny Krasin, created the weekly Skyview video newsletter Lemonade to “spread joy and keep our Skyview community growing.” In a humorous and entertaining way, she highlights the positive endeavors of students, families, and teachers while they learn at home.
Skyview families might say the most special moments of connection during the last several weeks were the “reverse parades” held in the Skyview parking lot. The staff (standing six feet apart) donned wacky attire and waved signs expressing love and solidarity. They cheered while families drove through the lot and reflected back their love and appreciation in an hour-long parade featuring an uplifting soundtrack of songs such as “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “I Will Survive.”
Students deserve best practices
In traditional education, teachers present information that students passively receive and then regurgitate on standardized tests. Northpoint and Skyview encourage students to follow their own inquiry, think critically and creatively, and synthesize information. With these real-world tools they are poised to skillfully navigate the viral pandemic that has closed their schools.They would rather be in the classroom with their beloved teachers and peers, but these dynamic youth trust their ability to learn in whatever circumstances they find themselves.
Michelle Grubert is a mother, educator and performing artist. She finds connection in her garden, in the wild surrounded by her greatest teachers, and on stage creating and storytelling.
Skyview teachers held a "reverse parade" to maintain connection with students and parents.