On January 6, we came home to our new campus building.
On March 16, we said goodbye.
IDEA Toros has been a school for four years, but we had lived in borrowed spaces since we started. A recreation center here, the second floor of a sister school there.
When we finally made it home in January, we were enthusiastic about the possibilities of having our own building, complete with a Flexible Learning Space designed for project collaboration and self-directed learning. So you can imagine the flood of feelings when we were forced to leave campus in mid-March and did not return because of COVID-19.
But in the midst of the greatest health crisis we have faced, we also found so much to be grateful for. As we restructured how we continue the school year, we found strength in the learning model that we had committed to in Summit Learning.
The program was especially beneficial for Mamie Anodjo, who was hired mid-year to be our 6th/7th-grade Math and Science teacher. Her first day in the classroom was March 16 – the last day we were on campus physically before the pandemic closed our doors.
Mrs. Anodjo received a “Welcome” and “Goodbye” in one supercharged eight-hour day right before Spring Break.
Our biggest concern was how a new teacher could remotely connect with her students enough to become a source of support, as well as ensuring that their continued learning trajectory remained uninterrupted. Could we still have students engaging from home when we no longer had a captive audience?
Mrs. Anodjo came in believing strongly in the structure of Summit’s mentoring program and committed to meeting with all 25 of her students every week, in addition to teaching her five preps. As we analyzed our data, we found that higher mentoring rates led to higher student engagement and project completion rates.
Mrs. Anodjo’s students had the highest rate of engagement over the course of our spring semester. The factor that most impacted student success during our emergency distance learning was not being the favorite teacher, having the best classroom management, having the clearest class expectations, or planning the most engaging lesson.
The defining factor was the intentionality of investment in student relationships, which we found to be purposefully structured through mentoring.
When all of us in education transitioned into our new classroom setting in the living rooms and bedrooms across the country, we wondered if our students were ready. Did they have the skills to keep themselves focused and engaged without an adult present to determine their every minute of the school day?
While there were adjustments to how we did what we did, we found that our students transitioned well into distance learning. They relied heavily on the Habits of Success they had developed over the course of the school year. Before the shutdown, they had the opportunity to discover how they best learned, navigated their frustration, built resilience, focused their energy on seeing a task through to the end – even when coming across a roadblock.
All of this had developed, guided by their teachers, within the daily interactions of the classroom. When we transitioned from the school room to the dining room, our students were ready. It was incredibly fulfilling to see that they didn’t skip a beat.
They each managed their time differently. Some of them worked more late at night. Others did so after making breakfast for siblings and helping them with their schoolwork as their parents continued working. But no matter their individual circumstances, they all came through as a group. I was so proud!
As we move into a school year that for many of us is beginning the same way it ended – at home – I realize more than ever that we have to make the best of this new environment. We no longer are able to teach in the moment in an actual classroom, where we could walk by a student and notice that they stopped their task without knowing what to do next. We can’t engage in the conversation of malleable intelligence after hearing a student mumble, “I’m just not good at…”
We have to be more intentional about building relationships, building skills, and building habits that will yield results for the rest of the school year. We have shifted how we begin the year to ensure that we are explicit about study skills and have built in opportunities to practice them before the content becomes a challenge. We are acknowledging and recognizing the behaviors that become Habits of Success.
We stand on the shoulders of those who have used research and science to develop a system that intentionally leads toward independent student success long before we came across a national crisis that demanded our students have these skills.
As IDEA Toros begins the school year in homes across the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, we have the obligation to remember that culture is built with intentionality. In the past, we had the comfort of teaching within our brick-and-mortar schoolhouses, where the art of teaching content and life skills seamlessly intertwined with a mix of plans and chance.
With that comfort being taken away from us, we open this school year by relying on intentionality alone. We have the ability to create the culture that will make our school successful for as long as we are in separate homes and as soon as we’re able to return to our campus home.
With Summit Learning, we have intentionality in building strong student relationships and focusing on the Habits of Success. This will help ensure that our students gain the skills to manage the same high expectations we had previously, despite being in a new environment.
I enter this new year with gratitude in being part of this community that was prepared for us long before there was an immediate need. And I’m reminded that IDEA Toros has never been about the building.
It has always been about the people.