At midpoint in the first semester, Evanston Township High School administrators presented to the District 202 School Board details of the school’s efforts to engage students in rigorous instruction, encourage outside activities and tend to their well-being.
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Pete Bavis, Associate Principal for Student Services Taya Kinzie and Assistant Superintendent/Principal Marcus Campbell gave updates on academics, school climate, supports and activities.
October Snapshot: “School happens every day.”
Dr. Witherspoon said, “We’re really striving to give our students that full real school experience, but in a virtual environment. And we know that there are trade-offs. … But I will say that our students have really been joining. They’re getting community service activities; they’re attending clubs and activities; they’re attending their classes; they’re working in groups. And so it’s really been a credit to our students, that they’re responding so well to their teachers – given a situation that is not what teenagers seek to have, to say the least.”
Transforming the educational environment for ETHS students began in the summer, with a team of about 100 planning for continuity of instruction and support in a positive learning environment, Dr. Bavis said.
Now that the semester has started, “School happens every day,” he said, either synchronously (taught live) or asynchronously (recorded).
Students and teachers all use the Google Classroom platform. All students have Chromebooks, which, if damaged, can be repaired at the school – 250 have been repaired so far, Dr. Campbell reported. The school has provided 175 hotspots.
At 97%, attendance nearly matches the 98% of a year ago in October.
Teachers regularly assign and grade homework so that students can receive timely feedback.
“Our teachers are really learning how to teach in this new environment. … We’ve done materials distribution for labs, so the students can do labs at home … and fine arts. We send things home to provide hands-on experiences. That requires some creativity and some thinking outside the box,” Dr. Bavis said.
He also said teachers are collaborating more and finding new ways to engage students. As an example, he said, “We have teachers who are putting students in breakout rooms during independent work time.” He added, “One of the things that we found is that we’re looking for creative ways to build community and to do what we can.”
Dr. Campbell said students are participating in many activities. “We’re spreading the Wildkit spirit into the community.” Students have collected 1,100 items of food and $400 to feed the hungry, Parent conferences, though remote, came off smoothly.
“In a week or so ETHS will be sending a survey to students to guardians, and to staff just to assess how we have done the first quarter and if we can make any adjustments, and so that we can tweak and make adjustments for the second quarter,” Dr. Campbell said. He also said administrators will share this data and data on grades with the Board and the community.
Ms. Kinzie said the Student Services team members have been making personalized phone calls and she has been conducting home visits. She also said, “We are making sure that we have removed all the barriers [for homeless families] so we can to help them continue to engage safely in learning and to be covered. Our mindfulness coaches are supporting how to embed mindfulness within the classroom setting.”
A full continuum of student services she said, includes services for students with IEPs, students in one or more special education classes, students who require occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech [therapy], language [therapy], social work and the like.
Social-emotional learning, she said, extends across the school, adding that she felt many students are learning to reach out when they feel the need for support.
“We were really excited that 6,000 bags were provided to students, for supplies for the school year. And we continue to do that; we’re going to continue to do that Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays,” Ms. Kinzie said.
Board members praised the administrators, faculty and staff for their work in engaging students and providing a strong and supportive learning environment.
Board President Pat Savage-Williams said she was “humbled” by the amount of work the staff and administrators were doing to teach and support students.
Two Board members, Jude Laude and Stephanie Teterycz, who are also ETHS parents, said they believed their students were being served very well by the remote learning model.
Mr. Laude said he thought the current student engagement surpassed what was offered before. “In terms of teachers reaching out to students and parents, it’s at a level that actually almost that I’ve never seen. … I could say, as a parent, that I just don’t see how you all could be doing a better job with that.”
Ms. Teterycz said, “It’s extraordinary. … Everybody has come together through this very unified, very determined effort that ‘We’re going to make this work, and we’re going to make this good.’… [Since] we may be doing this for a while, there are opportunities here … and there are some positive outcomes from all of this.”
Board member Gretchen Livingston said focusing on getting through the moment or the day or a Zoom meeting should not replace the idea that students are supposed to take something away from a Zoom meeting. “And it’s supposed to take them to the next step of their life, which is college or a job or a training program with that same kind of preparation and enthusiasm that they would have had even without COVID.”
Board member Monique Parsons said, “I know that parents are struggling. … And so I really want to say to the parents, if you need help, if you are struggling with your student, if your child needs help, if they’re not connecting, or whatever the case may be, please reach out. … We have the connections to get you to where you need to be.” She said she encouraged everyone, “especially in the Black community … to reach out and get that support because it’s there.”
Carmiya Bady, student representative to the District 202 Board, said, “I’m really impressed with the staff and, and how supportive everything is. It’s just not the way students usually learn. … Across the board, I think upperclassmen are feeling a lot more stress than the freshmen and the sophomores.”
She said Student Council members have been “getting a feel for how students are feeling. Initial responses dealt with homework, Carmiya said. A survey that includes demographics may produce more feedback from more students; so far, more than 400 students have responded. On Instagram and other social media there is talk about School Resource Officers, she said.
One request was whether ETHS would be a site for students to take the PSAT. She said many test-taking sites are far away: “I know that we’re not opening up at all, but I know that a lot of kids have to drive like three hours to take these tests. And that’s already a big thing that some people just can’t get the transportation for that.”
Dr. Witherspoon said no tests have been scheduled at ETHS, “but we haven’t closed the door on it. … If we think that there is an opening that we could possibly do that and do it in a safe way, we would certainly be open to it.”