The challenges of the past year have led many educators to explore new ways to reach students and families.
Educators at Kenwood Elementary in Louisville’s South End find themselves discussing major changes based on their pandemic experiences. The past year has involved absorbing shock of the school’s sudden closing, working to equip and reach students at the end of last school year, planning for a new remote reality, dealing with online fatigue and frustrations, and an array of adjustments.
New approaches have raised fundamental questions about supporting teachers, addressing student needs and interests, and helping families cope, she said. Now, the school — where 85 percent of the school’s 600 students come from families with incomes that qualify for free- or reduced-price meals and 45 percent of K-5 pupils are English learners — is discussing major changes beyond the pandemic.
Steady attention to an “engagement percentage” tracking how many students are actively involved in remote learning and efforts to move closer to full engagement sparked greater attention on personalizing learning in the future. Deeper relationships with families will become a priority, as will expanded use of technology.
Handley, in her 14th year as a principal, said that while educators are aware of public concerns about the consequences of students falling behind during the pandemic, moving students forward requires seeing progress as an urgent and positive challenge.
“Looking at it through a deficit lens gets very daunting,” she said. In that vein, connections and efforts of recent months can be a springboard. “We recognize that we have been able to personalize more. Many kids have gone deeper in areas than they would have. We have kindergarten students who can log onto a remote classroom by themselves. Young digital natives have gained skills and resilience and relationships with us that will help when we are back together.”
“We see an opportunity to really rethink and re-imagine what school could be like to better engage kids and remove barriers to create more equal access to curriculum,” the principal said. The current toward resuming in-person learning is overlapping with budget planning for next school year. Within that frame, a committee of Kenwood teachers and leaders is discussing plans for changes that could stretch years after regular school schedules resume.
“When it comes to family and community engagement, we are all on the same page,” Handley said. “We miss our kids so much, and while we can do this virtually, it’s not the same, but we can’t dwell on that. We’ve looked for the opportunities to move forward.”