Twenty years ago, Capital City Public Charter School listened to families in the District. There was a clear need for a public school that would give DC children, regardless of ability and background, an engaging and rigorous education. Twenty years after opening our doors, our school found itself in another unprecedented situation. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to quickly adapt the program our community has relied on for two decades – an education that changes the narrative for DC students through high-quality learning experiences focused on academics, character, and equity. While it often felt like we were building a plane while flying it, our teachers and staff worked hard to engage students virtually. Over 90% of students actively participated in distance learning in the spring and 100% of our seniors completed their graduation requirements (including a rigorous senior expedition). When faced with the tough decision about how to start the 2020-2021 school year, our first step was clear again – listen to our community.
In the spring, we surveyed families and staff, receiving over 250 responses, and conducted four focus groups with families held in Spanish and English. Feedback from these key stakeholders helped us understand the needs of our community and confirmed our need to prioritize three areas: health and safety, student learning, and the needs of teachers and staff. Weighing the physical, academic, social, and emotional risks associated with in-person learning, we decided to continue with distance learning in the fall.
This decision was best for our community, one that has been hit hard by the pandemic, with many experiencing illness and the loss of loved ones. We are also a community that elevates the voices of its teachers, who are our essential workers. The majority of our teachers and staff favored continuing with distance learning in the fall given the current pandemic. We rely on these teachers to deliver an equitable Capital City education that includes safe spaces for children, opportunities for collaboration and group work, social-emotional learning, and individualized supports. The restrictions from social distancing coupled with the logistics of executing a hybrid in-person and remote learning model could result in key elements of our program being lost. Maximizing distance learning platforms, however, will allow our program to be better implemented to achieve greater outcomes for our students.
With a decision made, we immediately prioritized communicating our distance learning plan to our families and staff. In mid-June, we sent a letter to all families and staff in English and Spanish explaining the rationale and plan for distance learning and held two virtual Town Halls to allow our community the opportunity to hear from school leaders and ask questions. Following the Town Halls, we developed a Frequently Asked Questions document to further share pertinent information related to instruction and expectations for virtual learning, technology, meals distribution, and more. Family engagement and regular communication with our community will remain a priority as we enter another unprecedented school year.
Announcing our decision as soon as possible also allowed our school to begin investing time and resources early in the summer to plan a comprehensive distance learning program building off of lessons learned in the spring. To deliver this high-quality program we are focused on:
- Planning to implement all aspects of our program virtually
- Removing barriers to student participation by providing age-appropriate technology for all students, training for families on our virtual learning platforms, and clear structures for learning
- Providing the social and emotional support our students and staff need at this time to navigate their lives and the world around them
- Implementing best practices for supporting English Learners and students with disabilities
- Strengthening and deepening Capital City’s commitment to equity and social justice by delivering an antiracist, culturally responsive curriculum to all students with the ultimate goal of closing the racial opportunity gap for Black and Latinx students
These uncertain times will certainly leave a mark on our community. We know we must continue to listen. Starting this summer, we will also begin to assess the impact of the pandemic on students and families to inform a new three-year strategic plan.
The start of the school year may not resemble the past 20 years. There will not be crowds of students and families physically waiting for our doors open. But, when students log on to their tablets or chromebooks August 31st, they will find something familiar. They will be welcomed by our dedicated, hard-working teachers and staff who will be ready to provide them the same joyful, engaging, challenging program our families chose for their children.