Facing the true test of self-direction, our students are thriving

As part of our COVID-19 coverage, Summit Learning is sharing stories from our partner schools about how they are adapting to closures. Each community, school, and family has different circumstances and different needs. Here’s how Charette Charter School’s community in Providence, Rhode Island is coming together to support students.

On March 13th, 2020, the Charette Charter High School was directed by the Rhode Island State Department of Education to develop a distance learning plan for full implementation in approximately one week’s time. The core staff developed a whole new schedule for online classes, developed protocols and training with staff, and readied devices, hotspots, and materials for distribution to every student. Though a monumental task, our students had their Summit Learning platform assignments, resources, and content assessments accessible remotely and we transitioned to remote learning with a commitment to ensuring our students’ learning would continue.

Prior to our school closure, Summit Learning was providing us with a comprehensive curriculum, projects, and a mentoring structure that seamlessly transferred to our remote learning plans. With the resources provided and creativity from our teachers and support staff, we quickly developed a remote learning plan. Our goal has been to continue creating high quality instruction and learning experiences in a distance learning environment. We are witnessing our students demonstrate self-direction and a level of empowerment that is inspiring. They are showing initiative, persistence, independence and self-efficacy. 

Our students are overcoming significant obstacles as they strive to continue learning. In our community, where 98 percent of our students receive free and reduced lunch, many students are helping support their families through economic turmoil. Our students are helping their parents file for unemployment, doing grocery shopping as EBT cards are replenished, babysitting, and helping their siblings keep up with their own online learning. These students let us know when they can’t be in class and reach out to us for the help they need. Despite these hardships, 79 percent of our students have set their own personal, weekly goals for academic success and 97 percent have logged on to the platform within the past week. Our 9th graders, whose development as self-directed learners is still in the early stages, are receiving more support during this transition. Our 10th and 11th graders, both in their second year of Summit Learning, are demonstrating stronger self-directed skills and self-advocacy skills. 

Many students have made the transition seamlessly, but a few have found the transition more difficult. To support those students, we are facilitating one-on-one meetings to help them navigate online tools, offering extra support in understanding concepts, providing additional help sessions, and more. With Summit Learning, every student has a mentor. Students meet weekly with their teacher-mentors to discuss their progress both academically and personally. The connections built through mentoring are also providing opportunities for our students to make us aware of family stressors and concerns. By engaging with our students, we’re able to offer them both academic and emotional support.

The level of engagement from families and caregivers is striking. Our parents have expressed genuine appreciation for the structure and rigor of the program, and are supporting our efforts to a greater degree. A team of support staff check in on every class during each day, noting student absences and contacting students or family to find out if they are okay and/or need support. This has helped boost attendance, while surfacing higher level needs for intervention. Parents and caregivers are witnessing remote learning firsthand, and are recognizing the quality of instruction their children are receiving. 

While shifting to remote learning, we have seen enhanced mentoring sessions. Students have enjoyed the uninterrrupted, relaxed virtual mentoring sessions, often with a favorite pet by their side. Students realize now, more than ever before, that they are the key drivers of their learning and subsequently more engaged and self-directed.  While we are looking forward to the day we can be in classrooms together again, we are encouraged to see such positive engagement, relationships, and care for our school community.

About the author

Kathy Vespia, Ed.D
Kathy Vespia, Ed.D. is the Executive Director of Charette Charter High School in Providence, Rhode Island.
Carol Martin
Carol Martin is a Designer, Organization and Planning at Charette Charter High School in Providence, Rhode Island.