Building School Culture Through Crisis

Jun 11, 2020 | Blog

Cascade | Midway Academy is Building School Culture Through Crisis

Even before they open their doors for their inaugural Class of 2024, the team at Cascade |Midway Academy has been working hard to connect with future students and families, as well as the community around Des Moines and the South Seattle region.

A tuition-free charter public high school that plans to open its doors this Fall, Cascade is built on a foundation of supportive education and guidance to prepare students for college, career and life.

When COVID-19 hit, the team knew that its incoming students would be impacted by isolation and vulnerable to losing academic gains made earlier in the year.

Supporting their community – no matter what

Instead of leaving it to others, the Cascade team mobilized a nuanced social media strategy to connect with parents and students to ensure that every incoming family was getting the support they needed.

“Just as we like to meet students where they are, so we do the same for families,” said Halma Abubakar, the school’s Director of Operations.

Cascade has deployed social media in service of their students and families. Starting with Facebook, Cascade reached out to families. They quickly learned that not all families had the phone service needed for many means of social communication. So, Cascade pivoted to use WhatsApp, which works on WIFI so more families could use the platform.

Through social media engagement, Cascade was able to conduct a needs assessment for families – for school and more. Based on reported technology needs, the school will send hotspots for families and each household will get a laptop. They also are helping coordinate family needs like pick-ups and ride shares to the grocery store. They are partnered with local non-profits to secure families with supplies for their students. As those partnerships are finalized, they can share that information in real time. Cascade has connected families with support systems to assist with rent, phone bills, and organizing free books for kids. They are continuing outreach to their families to determine ongoing pressure points and needs that they can help alleviate.

The Cascade team is committed to connecting with the community and building long-lasting positive relationships. In response to COVID-19, staff members from Cascade have been volunteering at the West Seattle and Des Moines food banks. They will continue to seek volunteer opportunities for their team and their students.

“To build a school takes a village,” said Abubakar. “What we are doing right now is building a really beautiful school culture.”

Building School Culture Before School Starts

Recognizing that their students are going through a particularly challenging time for their socio-emotional well-being, Cascade is holding ‘virtual circles’ with small groups of students. Circle is the practice of sharing feelings within a trusted group. Cascade uses prompts to engage their students in deeper conversation. They want their students to know that they are in it together well before Fall 2020 when school begins.

The use of technology for virtual circles has prompted more ways to engage with students than before. Through gifs and emoji’s, students can react and articulate their feelings in formats with which they are comfortable. Through virtual circle, the incoming 9th graders are able to connect with their classmates, teachers, and school personnel to build strong and healthy relationships at school.

“I’m really proud that we are building school culture via the internet,” said Abubakar “It’s encouraging students to invite their friends and engage a larger group of kids in this shared experience.”

As people across the country rise to address the serious impacts of racist policies and injustices faced by black and brown communities, Cascade’s ongoing focus on a vibrant school culture for their students and families has become more critical. Cascade has always worked through an anti-racist lens, recognizing the systematic injustice their student’s communities have faced for years. “The revolution isn’t DEI training, it’s systemic change,” says Halma. 

Beyond recognition and DEI training, Cascade commits daily to the practice of dismantling systems of racism. Built into the school structure is a focus on culturally relevant learning for their diverse student population. Through a Family Advisory Council, the school community is shaped by the experiences and knowledge of students and their families, including the development of family and volunteer capacity to offer classroom support, translation services, tutoring and mentoring. Cascade recognizes that their faculty and staff are always learning and will likely make mistakes. But for Cascade’s incoming students, with the support of their families and community, the school is committed to building a safe and trusting space to explore and tackle the challenging topics surrounding systemic racism in America and the world.  “We are a community that builds each other,” concludes Halma.

Cascade | Midway Academy is recruiting 9th-grade students for their inaugural year in 2020.

If you or someone you know wants to learn more and connect with the school, Halma Abubakar is available to answer all of your questions. Visit to connect and learn more.

Support Cascade | Midway Academy by donating to the school

Support equitable education for all students during COVID-19 by donating to WA Charters’ COVID-19 Response Fund

Review WA Charters’ COVID-19 and anti-racist resources pages