There are 180 days of learning in the National School District each year, with 302 average minutes of instruction per day. How does National School District Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Sharmila Kraft foresee using that time in the upcoming school year following a year of distance learning?
“When I talk about a recovery plan, it’s for three years,” Kraft said, and described an upcoming school year that includes classroom time structured around individual pathways, as well as outside activities intended to support learning outcomes in a relaxed, social setting, all based in part on data gathered over the previous year that reveals where student might have learning gaps.
In the summer months leading up to the coming school year, the district focused on “human connections,” Kraft said, utilizing an enrichment program they named Reach for Joy. Although “the fancy word is recovery,” she describes it more as a program to meet personal needs while striving toward the same end academic goals.
“When we decided to do the summer program, we focused on connecting with one another and being joyful. Although it is based in academics, it was really focused on conversations and personal interaction. We lived in a box for a year and school community is a huge component of success for students. We wanted to remind kids of what it’s like to belong,” Kraft said.
Going into fall, she said, district administrators are training teachers in a By Name, By Need program approach where “everybody has to hit grade level standards but how long or how little you spend on each topic is dependent on individual needs”.
Kraft believes that this individualized pathways approach will work due to the freedom with which teachers can differentiate for students, including higher achievers who “can’t be sitting in a class where a slow pace costs them.”
There will be a heavy focus, she said, on reinforcing learning with hands-on action. In fact, Kraft said, she added a whole section on extension activities to the district LCAP, a tool districts use to set goals, plan actions, and leverage resources.
“We know kids have been locked in and we’re giving them opportunities to be in the garden, outside, while talking. We’re encouraging a lot of interactive hands-on learning experience and field trips, even if it’s just a walk to the park to do an observation and sketch. We want to infuse art because there’s therapy in it,” Kraft said.
Simultaneously, school counselors are already preparing to talk with students about emotional lessons and “we’re treating academic and socio-emotional needs simultaneously,” Kraft said, asking questions like what it means to be a friend, and infusing lessons with a personal approach.
“We’re going to intentionally infuse that into our learning. You know, I can help you get your spelling words and math done but it takes a journey to learn social responsibility and awareness of one another. We’re going to celebrate resilience and really, looking ahead, that’s what career counselors and colleges say they’re looking for, those soft skills like grit and resilience,” Kraft said.
Last year’s kindergarteners who are now headed into first grade have about three different academic pacing guides, based in part on teacher observation from last year. Beginning in the latter part of spring, Kraft said, teachers began preparing then-kindergarteners for this coming year as first graders.
“We made sure we did wraparound services with counseling and heavy data monitoring but data means nothing if you don’t have a tight response to it for the long haul,” Kraft said.
“There are some positives that came out of this the pandemic did make us pause and evaluate, appreciate things like taking our time to give kids the time they need,” Kraft said.
The 2020-21 school year begins on July 26.