10,000 Uncommon Schools Students Throughout Brooklyn blaze path for blended learning

Second graders at Kings Elementary School have already covered a genre study on tall tales. They’ve read and analyzed several poems about confidence to celebrate their core value of the week. And in between lessons, they break out into Zoom dance parties.

Last week, their enrichment classes began, including dance, music and performing arts.

“Our 24 schools in Brooklyn are up and running because of our incredibly dedicated staff,” said Julie Jackson, president of Uncommon Schools. “We know our students and families need a school dedicated to learning whether they are in our schools or in their kitchens and living rooms, we are committed to providing school safely and with love and kindness.”

All 24 Uncommon K-12 schools, which educate 10,000 NYC students, launched remotely on August 31, and the current plan is to start a hybrid model after the winter break. In a hybrid model, some students would come to school on certain days while other students learn at home, and then they would alternate. Families can choose to continue a fully remote program as well. Uncommon Schools says that it’s basing its decision making on NYC health data and expert scientific advice as well as family and staff feedback.

Uncommon Schools has been recognized nationally for its quick move to remote learning in the Spring, as it worked to ensure that students could continue to learn from home. It built its online high schools in a day  so that students would be well prepared for AP exams–the type of exams that ensure students can get into the colleges they want with the scholarships they need.

This Fall, the network said its remote program is even stronger. In the past three weeks since school started, each Uncommon NYC student has received at least 36 hours of live instruction, has had access to office hours led by teachers and if K-8 has participated in daily community building lessons.

“We took everything we learned in the Spring about what works and doesn’t work and created a remote and hybrid learning program for this Fall that ensures students can keep learning,” said Jackson.  “We also have infused a ton of opportunities for students to connect with each other, to build community, to laugh and wiggle and to explore their interests. We want to make sure our students still feel our love even if we can’t be in the same room with them every day.”

Over the summer, teachers were trained in online learning techniques as well as all of the safety precautions that are necessary during onsite learning under social distancing protocols. Educators worked through the summer to adapt lesson plans to an online learning environment since an online lesson and an in-person lesson are very different from each other.

Schools are prioritizing the joy that is vital to helping classrooms create their community feel.

At Leadership Prep Brownsville, Principal Jacobi Clifton brings so much energy to his morning meetings that family members in his household have wondered if he can keep it down a bit.

At Excellence Girls, Principal Nikki Bowen led her students in a call and response where the girls cheered themselves and each other with: “We’re girls, we matter, and we have something to say. Are we perfect? No. We are better today than yesterday!”

Uncommon educators scoured the landscape over the summer for the best platforms that they felt would bring the best chances for academic success in a remote environment. For math, they chose Zearn Math, a comprehensive online program that helps teachers zero in on trouble spots so that they can push in and guide students to mastery in math concepts during small group instruction.

For English language arts, students use Amplify’s Core Knowledge Language Arts materials, a remote-friendly program that teaches reading skills while they are learning about history, science, literature, and the arts.

In addition, all educators at Uncommon Schools over the summer did a deep dive into culturally responsive teaching and are ensuring they are adding certain authors and works to its list of readings at every grade level.

Teachers schedule check-ins with students and families at least once per week, and answer any questions about the student’s work.

“We know that this pandemic has hit our communities the hardest,” Jackson said. “That’s why our passionate educators are more committed than ever to ensure that even through these challenging times, our students are getting the education they deserve.”

At the four Uncommon Brooklyn high schools, teachers have office hours or small group tutoring for students who need additional support. Students can also participate in extracurricular activities, including speech, debate and robotics.  High school students will attend school one day a week when the hybrid model is employed.

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