The KIPP Academy starts school on the second try

Tuesday was the second first day of school for kids and teachers at the KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy charter schools. Monday’s real first day was halted by a national Zoom crash, but Tuesday morning went off almost without a glitch.

“It’s still like first day jitters in the sense where, when you’re at school students are nervous to participate, whereas right now some of them were nervous about turning their computers on. But toward the end you had more students volunteering to read out loud and share out. And we had different activities like breakout rooms and doing different teamwork activities,” said Charysse Graham, sixth grade team lead and science teacher at Kipp Lanning Square Middle School.

Like most virtual programs planned for the year, the scholars at KIPP Academy are engaged in synchronous learning.

“It’s very different from the spring. We learned a lot of lessons on how to make virtual learning fun and exciting for kids. So all of our kids will have a live learning experience. They have a set schedule, just like they would in school. They will log onto a Zoom link and enter into a class. Their teacher will be teaching them live there. They start in their homeroom, then go into math class, and their English class and the rest of the classes during the day,” said Bridgit Cusatorosa, a school leader at Kipp Lanning Square Middle School.

“They both had different break times. It was a little confusing at first, but caught on and they’re doing good,” said parent Darisha Brooks-Young.

One of the challenges for teachers is recreating the small group classroom settings that are especially important for younger students.

“The smaller the setting, the more personal you can get with your teacher and then they can see what your needs are. And so when we would have centers in a building, it’s now like small Zoom groups,” said Cusatorosa.

She said another challenge is making sure students aren’t just logged on, which proved to be a major issue Monday, but also that students are engaged and feeling connected.

“We meet several times a week just to figure out what does a family need. We reach out, is it a tech issue? Is it something at home that, you know, we’re part of their village and that doesn’t go away because we’re now virtual. And so teachers are dissecting data to see who did what at the end of every day to get ready for the next day. And so that’s been built into teachers’ schedules for an hour each day so they can figure out who to pick out the next day to help,” Cusatorosa said.

But Graham said the interaction Tuesday was encouraging.

“Now, you’re able to ask a question and students are able to collaborate and give responses right then and there. A lot of students started to message me like, ‘Oh, can we stay on Zoom during our lunchtime?’ So it’s completely interactive. And the circumstances of being home are unfortunate, but I think this is just such as, you can tell the kids are really invested,” Graham said.

But with the structure of online learning, do activities like lunch serve as a way for kids to have free social time?

“We talked about it at the grade level,” Graham said. “It’s definitely something we’re going incorporate, like we want to do lunch bunches so that we can invite kids and get to know them during that time frame.”

It’s just one way the KIPP schools’ll work to build a strong community while schools remains remote.