Instead of standing in front of a classroom this summer, Jennifer Grant set up her online class from her kitchen.
From July to beginning of August, students who were enrolled in the Anne Arundel County Public Schools summer session were able to experience a revamped version of online learning.
Teachers gave real time instruction, schedules were set from 7:30 in the morning to 4 p.m. and breaks were full of virtual field trips and speakers.
Principal Nelson Horine, in charge of evening and summer school, had quite a different experience this summer from when he first administered the secondary summer school program in 1980, as classes were transferred online.
“Summer school is remedial and we wanted to give students something as close to the classroom instruction as we possible could,” Horine said.
From July 4, expectations were set for students to sign onto Google Classroom in the morning and participate in classes with the chance to receive immediate, real-time, synchronous instruction from teachers.
Grant taught reading to a class of first-graders and noted the difference from when she taught this past spring.
“The learning was synchronous so students were engaged at the same time it was being taught. Teachers were able to have the immediate feedback of how is the student understanding the concept,” Grant said.
Before diving into math or reading, Grant said the elementary students first began with 15 minutes of community circle to focus on social and emotional learning. The lessons also built relationships between all the new faces of students and teachers.
Students also received materials like dry erase boards so they could jot down answers and show them back to teachers on the screen.
Her young learners adapted to the online classroom ― turning microphones on or off when they needed to and turned on their cameras so she could see their facial expressions during class lessons, she said.
Similar experiences were seen for older students, sixth- to 12th-grade. The secondary summer school program had nearly 1500 students enrolled with about 100 teachers, Horine said.
Horine said students took to the summer school program in a mature, responsible, way.
“In summer school, everyone has to learn what they are doing very fast because it is so short. We found the students were able to accept responsibility of doing the work that was required of them and chatting in a mature way. The kids really took it very seriously,” he said.
Grant recommends that high expectations be set this fall and to foster a supportive environment so students know everyone is working together, despite the changes set by the pandemic.
Before teachers began instruction, administration and school system officials worked together to develop curriculum and programming that could fit the online, synchronous, learning platform.
Geri Cvetic, a summer school media specialist, created an online media program with the help of other educators and technology experts so that students could participate in virtual field trips during the school day.
Cvetic put together a program called, Thursday Opportunity, where community speakers were invited to host video presentations and talk about topics like library resources, the solar system, and social justice.
“The kids responded to these programs really well, they were attentive and asked really thoughtful questions,” Cvetic said.
The Evening Sun
The sessions were broken up into class periods and held a range of students from smaller classes of 23 to larger groups of 195, according to Cvetic’s final report.
For summer school, educators had more time to plan out instruction and activities for students in comparison to the spring, Cvetic said. Her programs this summer provided insight for the upcoming 2020 to 2021 school year.
“From my view, the more engaging we can be and the more that we work with students and build trust — the more they are going to feel comfortable in this environment,” she said.
The summer has also given educators time for professional development. Horine said teachers were given training sessions on how to best use the Google Classroom and other tools to recreate a classroom experience, online.
“We made every effort to give our teachers the tools they needed to be successfully in teaching their students online. We wanted to set up an opportunity so teachers would feel comfortable with what they were doing,” Horine said.
The summer school ended with a small graduation for high school seniors who were able to finish their graduation requirements. On Thursday, 15 students attended the socially-distant ceremony at Severna Park High School.
Small groups of families were able to attend to watch students pick up their diplomas and take photos, he said.