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Creating Stability in Uncertain Times

“We have a moral obligation to serve our students…to push ourselves on innovation and equity and access.”

– Preston Smith in USA Today, April 13, 2020

School campuses across the country are closed for the year. Taking attendance is now optional. State assessments of student learning and progress are cancelled. A lot has changed in the last month. But one thing that should not change is the fierce sense of urgency and commitment to serve every student with excellence, everyday.

The learning losses that result from nationwide school closures could be catastrophic. And not just because of the lack of high-quality classroom instruction. Schools provide a safe haven and source of stability for the millions of students who have dealt with trauma in their lives – from poverty, crime, domestic violence, racism, and more. With schools closed, those safety nets are gone. While we can’t replace the learning and supports that are provided on campus, we must still work to innovate new ways to provide stability for our students and families in this time of crisis.

Stability in Uncertain Times

While many families are engaging in various at-home learning activities to keep their children from falling behind academically, Rocketship’s approach to distance learning places equal emphasis on the emotional and social wellbeing of our students. Just like back on campus, our schools foster social connections, deepen relationships with families and students, and show our Rocketeers how much they are loved and cared for.

“We’re talking about trying to reach families that were already on the fringes of society, living in trauma and toxic stress,” Preston Smith said. “These parents are losing their jobs, or they’re out there as low-wage workers, potentially being exposed…” – USA Today, April 13, 2020

“…staff have tried to uphold Rocketship’s brand of joy and community online. Daily celebrations that open and close the school day are now simulated on Facebook Live. Teachers host lunchtime video conferences. Staff are connecting families with rent assistance or meals. If students indicate on daily surveys that they haven’t felt safe at home, staff follow up with them. USA Today, April 13, 2020

Every Rocketship school has designated a CareCorps of at least four educators who are responsible for contacting every Rocketship family, every day. Their mission is to support our most vulnerable families who are experiencing the destabilizing impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. Every morning, the CareCorps sends a brief wellness survey to all families to ensure everyone feels safe at home and identifies any needs in the school community. The team reviews all responses before noon each day and then follows up directly with families who indicated they need support. This added layer of personal outreach is incredibly important right now.

Ensuring Equity of Access and Serving Our Families

Ensuring that as many Rocketeers as possible can engage in distance learning has been a challenge we’ve been working tirelessly to overcome. As Education Trust-West’s latest poll results show, “Across California, only 59% of public-school parents surveyed in late March thought their district’s learning plan was successful, according to a statewide poll. For those concerned their child would be unable to participate, 41% said not having enough computers or internet devices was the top barrier.”

We sent home 2,500 Chromebooks before the first week of distance learning but even so, we initially struggled to get all students connected and engaged. By the end of our first week of distance learning (week of March 16), participation in our virtual programming hovered around 50% across our network. Thanks to daily outreach efforts in the weeks that followed, 90% of our families are now connected online and approximately 80% of our Rocketeers are engaging in distance learning every day! Our outreach efforts are continuing as we push to ensure 100% of Rocketeers are participating in our dynamic distancing learning program.

Spreading Joy and Love

Distance learning is about so much more than access, it’s also about showing our students we are here for them in this challenging time. In Milwaukee, where most of our Rocketeers face significant disadvantages and trauma, Rocketship Transformation Prep teachers spread joy to their students by dropping off Easter baskets on doorsteps – as featured on NBC News! In Nashville, ABC News followed Rocketship Nashville Northeast Elementary staff as they took their fifth core value of Love to the streets – driving by Rocketeers’ houses with a decorated car parade. Our teachers and leaders continue to celebrate Rocketeers’ achievements every day – now online – at daily virtual assemblies and through shout outs in live online classes. They’ve also got quite a few surprises in store for our students as we plan for virtual graduations, online talent shows, and much more- stay tuned!


Inclusion From a Distance

Serving all students is core to our model and that doesn’t change now that we’re learning online. Washington DC’s NPR station showcased Rocketship Legacy Prep’s distance learning for students with special needs: “On school days, LaJoy Johnson-Law and her daughter, Abria, replicate an abbreviated version of the 8-year-old’s schedule at Rocketship Legacy Prep in the District. They start the morning with breakfast before logging on to Facebook for a school-wide virtual meeting with classmates and teachers. They solve math problems and page through books, finishing with writing after lunch.” Through small group, whole class, and individual instruction, as well as individual check-ins with teachers, we are striving to serve all students with individualized supports to the greatest extent possible to make sure that all students get what they need to keep learning.

Teacher Development Doesn’t Stop

Rocketship teachers are also coming together as a community online to support and learn from each other. Robin Lake of the Center on Reinventing Public Education writes in The 74 Million, “At Rocketship Public Schools…educators share recorded Zoom lessons with colleagues across the network. Teachers at the tech-savvy charter network were already used to recording themselves to practice lessons or allow students to access them later, so it made sense to use the videos for remote professional development. Teacher leaders record example lessons and share them with others in the same grade and subject; leaders can use these videos to highlight effective practices.” Our teachers continue to innovate new ways to teach and reach our Rocketeers and we can’t wait to see what they come up with next!

Change is Not The Only Constant

It’s now clear that this crisis is just getting started. We are actively planning for a whole range of scenarios to navigate the foreseeable future. And while many things about school as we know it have changed and will continue to change, our collective sense of urgency to serve our students with excellence and support our communities with compassion will continue to guide our way forward.

Published on April 21, 2020

Read more stories about: Distance Learning.