In the immediate days after the first COVID-19 cases hit Chicago, the staff at Acero Schools put their heads together to look at the worst-case scenario. What if Chicago area schools were mandated to close and all 7,200 hundred families in the Acero network suddenly needed to transition to remote learning?
Without a second to lose, a whirlwind of planning began on March 9th. A team of Acero principals, academic leaders, teachers, and supporting staff came together through what Acero’s Chief Education Officer Matthew Rodriguez defined as their “resilience, creativity, innovation, and passion for equity.” As a result, by the time Chicago schools were asked to transition to e-learning in mid-March, Acero was well ahead of the game, with a well-thought out plan for how to deliver curriculum via technology and paper packets.
Like all Chicago students, children at Acero schools left their buildings on March 13th wondering when they’ll see their classrooms again. Although they left their school halls behind, they carried lessons from the classroom with them. Each student headed home with two weeks’ worth of take-home packets, with instructions in English and in Spanish, in order to continue their studies. In the days that followed and mindful that roughly 1,000 Acero families do not have access to technology, the schools did what they could to equip as 930 students with Chromebooks in addition to the paper packets inclusive of all grade levels made available to families every week.
Phase one of remote learning was a success. As school closures extended and currently remain in effect, Acero launched the Acero Schools Remote Learning Experience. #AceroLearnsEverywhere serves students in all grades and is delivered with a two-pronged approach in order to serve all families.
The curriculum Acero developed for each grade continues to be delivered either electronically or via paper packets, depending on family preference and access to technology. Each packet includes directions in English and Spanish so that parents can support their children’s learning at home. Packets also come with a sample school day schedule to help parents structure their child’s day. In addition to core curriculum, Acero built in physical education lessons and breaks, incorporates social and emotional learning, and provides access to art and music resources and virtual fieldtrips. Exploratory learning and project-based problem-solving lessons are also built into the curriculum.
“Our remote learning system helps us deal with an unknown future reality,” said Rodriguez. “The materials we’ve built gives equal access to the curriculum across schools. Its delivery is not dependent on one school or one teacher.”
Students and families can access their grade specific curriculum via Acero’s website or can pick up paper packets at any of the Acero schools providing meals. To date, over 5,000 packets have been retrieved and over 74,000 meals have been served. For everyone’s safety, Acero practices social distancing during packet and meal distribution. Families will keep completed packets until it’s time for kids to return to school and turn them in.
Rodriguez said the response from families has been overwhelmingly positive. While there were some glitches along the way, Acero was quick to respond and seek feedback to improve the remote learning experience. They’ve personally called every family to check-in and make sure they have the correct contact information and are informed on the latest news from Acero. In addition to phone calls, they’re constantly communicating with parents via the Acero Schools app, text, social media, robocalls, and through their sharing good campaign which highlights ways students are giving back during this crisis. Like the remote curriculum, all messages are delivered in both English and Spanish.
Continuing to educate students is Acero’s top priority, but they also acknowledge the additional needs of the communities they serve.
“Our website provides direct links to economic, food, and healthcare resources for documented and undocumented families,” said Rodriguez.
Hopefully, students will soon be able to return to school. But if not, Acero’s replicable remote learning program will continue serving all their students from their living rooms, kitchen tables, and everywhere in-between.
Acero Schools aims to transform minds through academic empowerment and success at 15 charter public school campuses in Chicago. The education opportunities for students at Acero will enable them to be the next generation of extraordinary life-long learners, discerners and doers.