A post from Families in Action
Every public school and district has had to grapple with distance learning these past few months, and its many issues and imperfect solutions.
There’s equity: The Oakland Mayor’s office and partners recently announced they need 25,000 computers, 10,000 hotspots and 13,000 internet service contracts to ensure every student can participate in distance learning. Across the Bay Area, many parents are unhappy with the amount of teaching their students are receiving. Some school districts are handling the grading dilemma by proposing giving every student an “A.” Many schools have already cancelled graduation.
Then there is AIMS K-12 College Prep Charter District, which operates three Oakland public charter schools: AIMS College Prep Elementary School (grades K-5), AIMS College Prep Middle School (6–8), and AIMS College Prep High School (9–12). AIMS has maintained an average daily attendance above 90 percent. Its schools distributed 300 computers to students, ensuring every student has a computer at home, and made sure every student and teacher has access to the internet. AIMS is still holding Saturday school for students who are behind. Its students are still taking AP exams. AIMS is also still planning on holding a graduation ceremony for high school seniors.
How has AIMS done it? Good planning and foresight, and a digital curriculum students and educators were already familiar with is part of it. More than anything, though, it’s AIMS continuing to maintain its high standards, and its unwillingness to let the pandemic shortchange students out of their civil right to an education.
“It’s the ethos of who we are as an organization: we have high expectations and we give high support,” AIMS Superintendent Maya Woods-Cadiz said. “Our students are really counting on us for some definition of normalcy and consistency. These are inconsistent times.
“We’re not so rigid that we don’t make sure the basic needs of our students are taken care of, but we also understand the enormity of our responsibility to say, ‘We will hold that line for you, we will make sure school is something you can rely on and trust in these changing times.’”
AIMS has garnered many awards over the years: National Blue Ribbon, California Distinguished School, California Title I Academic Achievement. It has been recognized for closing the achievement gap and as the top Bay Area school for underserved students. This year, AIMS was announced as the winner of the 2020 Hart Vision Awards for School of the Year in Northern California.
AIMS High School is also one of the best Oakland public high schools at ensuring its students graduate eligible to apply to college. At the first-ever A-G Quality School Awards, AIMS took home two awards for its perfect A-G completion rate for both African American and Latino/a students.
So it is simply not in AIMS’ DNA to ease up on its high expectations students, no matter what is happening in the outside world.
“Districts have the right to decide what they want to do with their children,” said Maurice Williams, Head of AIMS College Prep High School. “We’re also keenly aware that if we start to make a lot of concessions to the quality of our academic program, not only is that going to negatively impact our students, but also our mission and the very things we exist for as an organization.”
The transition to distance learning went smoothly because the digital tools AIMS uses, like Schoology which is used by its middle school and high school, were already in use before the pandemic. “That really allowed the middle school to walk nicely towards this change,” said Peter Holmquist, Head of AIMS Head of College Prep Middle School.
Christopher Ahmad, Head of AIMS College Prep Elementary School, agreed that having online tools already built into the curriculum made the transition much smoother. “The only thing that was new to the teachers was how to set up Zoom,” Ahmad said. “But one of our teachers actually taught on Zoom during summer school and she took the lead and helped train other teachers during PD: how to use it effectively, how to get graded assignments in. We all worked together as a team to get this done.”
Because students face other challenges now than they did before the pandemic, and other responsibilities at home, AIMS schools altered school days so there is more time for independent learning. Teachers are working in small groups with students more to check for understanding. Teachers and administrators at each school regularly check-in with students to make sure they understand an individual student’s learning environment and challenges.
“We want to make sure we aren’t adding to some already high-stress situations for some of our students, who are home alone, watching siblings, going for groceries, doing chores and showing up for school,” Holmquist said.
Woods-Cadiz is from Oakland and knows what it’s like to grow up here. She knows a lot of Oakland public school students are hanging out with their friends right now, playing and hanging out in the streets. She’s heard anecdotally about students only checking in with teachers a few times per week, not having any assignments aside from a packet they were sent home with months ago. She worries about the lasting effect on these children, Oakland kids like herself.
“I’m an East Oakland kid so I know there are times that going out in the street to play was all we could do. I get it,” she said. “But at what point do we as educators provide an alternative so the kids feel like there is something more productive they should be doing: academically, socially, emotionally, mentally. Kids crave consistency.”Families in Action for Quality Education