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Despite facing increased challenges, St. Louis educators are innovating new approaches to instruction and intervention to better meet the needs of their students. We wanted to share examples of the intrepid leadership we are seeing during these challenging times and celebrate the great work happening locally. We hope these examples inspire collaboration and connection across schools and districts.

Supporting families with At-Home Learning Kits

The transition to remote learning proved difficult for many children, but the all-digital approach that the majority of schools adopted has been challenging to early childhood students, especially for families with limited resources.

Although Atlas Public Schools will not officially launch until the 2021-2022 school year, co-founders Genevieve Backer and Colby Heckendorn saw an opportunity to support children and test their school’s hands-on model through the creation of At-Home Learning Kits. “We heard from families that while there was an abundant supply of free online resources, many did not have access to technology at home and most of the free online content is geared towards older students,” says Heckendorn.

Atlas piloted the first round of their At-Home Learning Kits in the spring of 2020, delivering 100 boxes to families in the city with children between the ages of 3-6. Boxes included 30+ hours of learning opportunities, including books, hands-on projects, and basic school supplies that children get to keep and will provide lasting educational value, even after the pandemic.

When the post-survey showed that 99% of parents believed that the kits positively impacted their child’s learning, Atlas expanded their program to more families. To date, they have distributed over 1,000 kits. They also launched their Explorers program, a month-long online learning experience where instructors support students and families learning at home through hands-on resources accompanied by virtual lessons and curriculum.

Based on the success of these programs, Atlas is planning to reimagine what homework looks like for Atlas students even after the pandemic.

Implementing High-Quality Curriculum

Adopting a new curriculum is always challenging, but training teachers and introducing students to a new approach to math while also adjusting to school online can be even more daunting. When a strengths and gaps report concluded that the Normandy Schools Collaborative has not consistently implemented a high-quality curriculum, the district decided to take action and adopt a more rigorous curriculum despite the added challenge of the pandemic.

Teresa Harris, Math Coach at Barack Obama Elementary School in the Normandy Schools Collaborative, took on this challenge by starting out the 2020-2021 academic year transitioning first through fourth-grade math instruction. She has worked with Achievement First to implement AF Navigator, a rigorous, inquiry-based, grade-level curriculum with a track record of success.

Since implementing the curriculum, Harris has seen a significant shift in how teachers and students engage with both the math content and each other. The real-world examples have deepened students’ thinking and connect math to their world. Harris says teachers are cultivating an environment where students are not afraid to be incorrect and ask questions, increasing their confidence and ability.

The effects have already made an impact on student achievement, with marked improvement on each quarterly assessment. Research also indicates that the continued implementation of a high-quality curriculum will result in increased student gains over time. According to the report What We Teach Matters, “a longitudinal study found that students who were taught using a high-quality math curriculum for four consecutive years outpaced comparison students by a margin of 23 percentile points – an effect that amounts to a stunning four additional years of learning.”

Harris says that having a growth mindset is key to making the new curriculum work – the instruction and performance are continuing to improve. “It takes time, but I can see the path to success ahead.”

Using Data to Support Student’s Social-Emotional Learning

“Addressing students’ social-emotional needs has always been important, but COVID has elevated it’s urgency,” says Christine Frampus, the Manager of Mental Health for KIPP St. Louis. Thanks to KIPP’s participation in the Better Measures initiative, they have used Panorama Education’s student, parent, and teacher surveys to help identify the areas where students need SEL support.

Frampus says the Panorama survey data allows the schools to center student needs and quickly address them. Surveys from this school year showed that many students struggle with regulating their emotions. To support students in developing these skills, KIPP implemented an SEL curriculum for all elementary students twice a week and launched a process to find an SEL curriculum for the middle and high schools that engages mental health professionals, teachers, students, and parents.

Between the 2019-2020 school year and the fall of the 2020-2021 school year, there was a significant drop in the percentage of students who responded favorably to the question “when your teacher asks, ‘how are you?’ do you feel that your teacher really wants to know your answer?” To support teachers in improving relationships with students, all middle and high school based staff participated in training around COVID-19 as a grief experience. Frampus says educators now have the language to better understand and address students’ mental health needs.

As schools transition back to in-person learning and students process the tumult and loss of the past year, Frampus says having information from the Panorama surveys will allow KIPP to identify student and parent needs and implement interventions that center what’s important to them.

The Opportunity Trust is looking to partner with more districts and schools for the Better Measures initiative. You can learn more about Panorama on their website and email Jesse Dixon for more information about Better Measures.

Do you know an outstanding 11th or 12th grader making an impact in St. Louis and preparing for success after highschool?

Nominate them for the Upperclassman of Excellence Award. Applications close May 10th.