Students and their families at Erie Elementary Charter School headed home in mid-March equipped with the tools necessary to continue their studies at home. Perhaps more important than the Chromebooks and paper packets Erie provided students are the social and emotional learning (SEL) concepts woven into the school’s remote learning curriculum.
“Social and emotional learning is embedded into our culture and everything we do. It’s the number one priority for our curriculum when we’re physically in school and while remote learning takes place,” said Kimberly Kays, principal at Erie Elementary Charter School.
Through SEL, students learn to build skills of self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and a sound foundation from which to make decisions. These life skills are more important than ever as Erie students face challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that the curriculum is delivered remotely, parents have a chance to learn and apply these tools as well.
“These are important skills parents and children can use to help process emotions and maintain a sense of normalcy during this time,” said Kays.
For example, as part of SEL, middle school students have been engaging with real world applications of scientific research around COVID-19, journaling about how the pandemic is impacting their lives and the lives of others, and conducting roundtable discussions around those topics via Zoom. Additionally, Erie is hosting their weekly all-school assembly, the Friday Morning Meeting, on Zoom to provide students with a sense of security and consistency. Although it’s hectic and scattered at times, giving the students the chance to connect is well worth it.
“It’s full of energy and lots of love. We all look forward to it,” said Kays. “It’s just one other way we can let the students know we’re here for them.”
Erie’s remote learning system is designed to be as consistent with and similar to the classroom experience as possible. Teachers still review classroom rules and expectations with students and discuss how they translate to a remote learning environment, guide students through exercises aimed at building the SEL skills of tenacity and growth mindset, and make sure students connect with each other during virtual classroom time to continue developing social skills including listening, responding, agreeing, respectfully disagreeing, and cooperating. Students still have the opportunity to review each other’s work virtually and give constructive feedback as well as videoconference to complete schoolwork together.
Teachers meet with their full classrooms once a week. In order to provide more a more personalized approach to learning, teachers have also divided their classes into small groups of about five students and meet with these groups individually to better connect with each child.
As a dual language school, Erie is providing remote learning in both Spanish and English so children can continue the dual language program for continuity. Spanish classes are still being offered to students in the general education program and materials are available in English and Spanish so that all caregivers and family members can participate in their children’s learning. Diverse learners are receiving weekly teletherapy services with speech therapists, occupational therapists, and social workers.
Now that schools are closed through the end of the academic year, Erie eighth graders will not get to full experience graduation and the festivities leading up to it, such as the annual camping trip and luncheon. Although none of these events can take place in person, Erie is determined not to let the pandemic rob their students of a graduation experience. The school is hard at work developing virtual celebrations and a drive-by, contactless graduation/diploma pick-up so that all eighth graders and their families can celebrate this special milestone together, even if they’re physically apart. In addition to graduation, Erie plans to move other end of the year activities online.
“We’re staying true to our traditions and school culture as much as possible during this time,” said Kays.
Erie Elementary Charter School, founded in Chicago in 2005, fosters the habits of heart, mind and work. EECS builds Spanish proficiency and open doors to multicultural competence. A responsive environment and engaging curriculum empower, educate and elevate students to confidently enter a path of higher education and participate in a diverse global society.