While many schools across the country have been incorporating new tools and platforms into their lessons for the first time due to the novel coronavirus, Building 21 at 6501 Limekiln Pike, has continued to build on the curriculum they’ve already implemented.
Known for being an innovative one-to-one high school with nearly 380 students, Building 21 teachers often utilized Google Classroom and Google Suites for lesson plans prior to the pandemic.
“We’ve always relied heavily on different online platforms like Google classroom and Google Suites, so our students were already used to interacting online even when they were physically in the building,” said Building 21 assistant principal Brianne MacNamara.
“When we moved to all virtual learning, the transition was somewhat smooth for our students because they were used to interacting with their teachers in Google classroom, doing assignments, and checking their email, so we’re very fortunate.”
To ensure that students still feel personally connected with their teachers and staff at Building 21, MacNamara said they spend “a significant amount of time on outreach.”
“Nothing can really replace in-person engagement, so we spend a lot of time during the week just on outreach with students,” MacNamara said. “Checking in on them both academically and personally to make sure they have everything that they need.
“Our teachers have also been working really hard on outreach and how to continue to engage their students through a virtual setting,” she added. “They’ve been trying out sites like Pear Deck or Desmos to see what platforms are really working for students and how we can better engage them.”
One of the things that makes Building 21 unique is the personalized learning for students. The school has four ways of personalized learning, which include learning through relationships, the competency based progression system, blended learning and workshops.
Despite students now learning their lessons virtual, the schedule of the day and programming has remained the same.
“Typically, students participate between five and six classes,” MacNamara said. “The way we have it setup now is that half of the classes are designed to be synchronous and then the other half of classes are designed to be asynchronous, where teachers can work in small groups when they need and students can work independently.
“The schedule is similar to what they would be doing in the school building, but we did cut where we could to lessen the screen time. They also have an advisor every day and once a week they have the opportunity to meet with their adviser one-on-one.
“We have five senior advisers and they’ve been with their students since they were in the ninth grade,” she added. “They’ve been able to really build strong relationships with the students and with the families to make sure that they are getting everything that they need.
Building 21 is continuing to prepare its students for the next level academically by providing a rigorous college-preparatory curriculum. Seniors are enrolled in a senior seminar that meets daily for the first half of the school year.
“Our guidance counselor runs the senior seminar and she is phenomenal,” MacNamara said. “She does a really good job of getting guest speakers to come in. We still have college reps coming in. Students are still completing FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) workshops and doing all kinds of activities to really get them set for the next year.
“These are all things that we didn’t want to lose in our schedule,” she added. “We wanted to still make sure that our seniors have access to the guidance counselor and have access to all the representatives that she brings in on a regular basis. We want to make sure that we’re continuing to prepare them for the next level.”
MacNamara said that while this year has been very challenging due to the pandemic, it also provided an opportunity to get students out of their comfort zones.
“While this year has been challenging for our students for obvious reasons, it also prepared them and moved them out of their comfort zone to find success later,” MacNamara said. “They’re learning how to push themselves even more and they’re constantly building resilience.
“Why we’re not in the building right now, we still want them to know that they have a school community with people that care for them,” she added. “We’re not only here to support them, but we want to make sure that they’re advocating for themselves. We will always be there for them.”