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Impact Charter Public Schools: Never Underestimate the Capacity of Young People

Aug 11, 2020 | Blog

Spring of 2020 was hard on communities the world over. But with COVID-19 shuttering schools, children bore a unique burden – to manage much of their learning independently. 

When Impact Public Schools – an elementary charter public school network headquartered in Tukwila – began adaptive programs for their scholars to learn at home, they were worried about how it would work.

By the conclusion of the 2019-2020 school year, they feel confident that scholars can not only meet but exceed school and family expectations. 

Moreover, Impact now has a phenomenal distance learning program and is ready to see scholars thrive in the fall of 2020

Impact serves children in grades K-3 in Tukwila at Impact | Puget Sound Elementary and will be opening their doors to kindergarten and first grade scholars at their new school, Impact | Salish Sea Elementary in the fall of 2020. 

Setting Up Distance Learning for All Scholars

Distance learning takes deep coordination with families to ensure kids can thrive. Prior to launching Impact’s comprehensive distance learning plan last spring, teachers called all families to explain the new format and how the school day would operate. Mentor teachers checked in twice a week with families and scholars to establish regular communication and to help prioritize Social-Emotional Learning (SEL).

SEL has been a top priority for Impact from day one and this has remained a priority during distance learning. So too is closing the opportunity gap. While a majority of families could participate in the new distance learning format, some couldn’t accommodate the schedule. For them, Impact designed alternative learning projects and experiences with a dedicated faculty member to serve as a touchpoint for families and scholars throughout the week. 

“The opportunity gap is real, and if we don’t do anything that gap will continue to get wider,” said Alex Horowitz, Regional Director of Schools. “We worked hard to make our distance learning program work for every scholar, continuing to run a school experience that is both joyful and rigorous.”

Making accommodations to address the diverse needs of their scholars is critical to Impact. Beyond alternative learning programs to accommodate schedules, Impact provided special education services to meet scholars’ individual needs and provided consistently translated communications and materials so all families could access education.

A Day in the Life of Distance Learning

With family support, Impact rolled out a plan that included synchronous and asynchronous learning. In other words, scholars would have time learning together online and working independently for portions of their day. 

Daily lesson plans were structured to help the program be as scholar- and teacher-led as possible, allowing parents to work from home without needing to support lessons and learning experiences. Routine and consistency helped scholars thrive in their distance learning experience. They were able to independently participate in and navigate the online systems designed for them. As an extra support, Impact launched Impact Radio, a station that families could tune into which provided announcements and let scholars know when to change tasks.

Each day began with mentor time. Teachers facilitated an SEL check-in routine including ‘Circle’ and daily class goal setting. Circle, which is a daily practice where scholars can share their feelings and ideas with a small group, has always been a consistent ritual for all scholars at Impact.

Other opportunities for scholars to learn together included literacy and math time. For each of these learning blocks, scholars were placed in small groups to work in breakout settings with teachers. 

“Kids have been isolated during COVID-19, and so this was a way of promoting connection,” said Mr. Horowitz. “We received a lot of positive feedback on the multiple ways kids can use the breakout rooms with built-in time to socialize. This is a successful and important element for children’s development which will carry forward into the fall of 2020.”

In other parts of the day, scholars worked on various online enrichment platforms and project-based learning work. 

It was important that computer and non-computer time be balanced – especially for young learners like Impact’s elementary scholars. Impact’s curriculum includes project-based learning, which allows scholars to develop their skills with hands-on experiences. Students need time to build and create with real materials. While at home, families were mailed project kits for scholars to complete off-line while teachers would check in to monitor progress. 

How has all this worked? 

Better than expected. 

Impact’s distance learning program has proven how independent our youngest learners are. They are rising to the challenge! For these younger scholars, one of the best ways to measure progress is by monitoring engagement. The average daily attendance for the synchronous learning blocks was 94%. 

Everyone has been impressed by how effectively Kindergarteners navigated the virtual space by entering and exiting Zoom rooms and keeping pace with a variety of learning platforms. 

“There is a narrative that this is too hard for kids because of tech proficiency at a young age,” said Mr. Horowitz. “But we can be a proof point that kids are capable of far more than we expect.” 

Into the Summer and Beyond

After much consideration, Impact is planning to start the 2020 school year virtually. As Impact develops plans, their unique distance learning model will become more robust and functional for scholars and families. 

But even before the new school year, Impact made their online platform available for scholars over the summer. To prevent “summer slide,” scholars kept their skills sharp with the use of Impact at Home, the school’s digital learning tool. Impact scholars were able to keep their computers over the summer and access learning programs at their convenience.

Additionally, the school distributed summer packets with a significant amount of learning activities for scholars and families. Regular “Impact at Home” newsletters also featured read-a-louds for scholars to watch and extension activities. Impact remained committed to providing scholars with learning opportunities all summer.

“We don’t know how all the events happening right now – the isolation, uncertainty, the stress at home and in the world – will impact kids,” said Mr. Horowitz. “But we can guess that social-emotional learning is even more important moving forward. We DO know that our young scholars are prepared and capable of working on those skills both in person and online.”

For scholars and families at Impact Public Schools, they can expect an even more robust social-emotional learning experience, as well as the hands-on projects and individual instruction time they rely on, when they ‘come back’ to school this fall. Impact will be opening its 2020-2021 school year exclusively with virtual classrooms and at home learning. 

A Model Elementary Program

Schools nationwide have struggled with high-quality distance learning, especially for elementary-aged children. Impact’s innovative program is a stellar example of how education can move forward in virtual settings to support children in those early elementary school years.

With the amazing success of Impact at Home, the school is now looking for partners who would be interested in helping develop their Learning Management System (LMS) for early education. The Impact Public Schools LMS is designed around the school’s core principles, which includes social emotional learning, individualized instruction and project-based, hands-on learning.

Impact may open up more distance learning seats soon. Click here to join our K-3 waitlist.