As the school day begins, students wait patiently in their buses outside of Friendship Academy while staff assemble to greet them and escort them to their classrooms. Students attend school in-person two days a week in the blended learning model Friendship Academy has adopted this school year in the wake of COVID-19.
Within the classroom, students are seated six feet apart and wear masks. They are joined virtually by their remote classmates via a SmartBoard using a webcam. Microsoft Teams serves as the learning platform connecting our staff and students – both remote and in-person.
Because students at Friendship Academy are challenged emotionally and behaviorally, their support teams include behavioral health professionals as well as educators. A full complement of staff including special education and subject area teachers, social workers, and classroom therapists support all students in real-time throughout the school day. The high staff to student ratio helps support students’ engagement in learning.
Although this school year is different from any students and staff have ever experienced, everyone has shown resilience and have adapted well to the changes in day-to-day routines.
“Our students were really excited to come back to school” shared Samantha Generalovich, Education Director at Friendship Academy. “They’re handling the guidelines really well and have remained positive and upbeat despite the changes.”
Supporting Students through Creative Blended Learning
A block schedule emphasizes reading and math to provide extra time for students to spend on subjects that advance their skills. STEM subject area teachers creatively provide supplemental materials such as science bundles and art kits to send home with students. With the blended learning model, the kits make it possible for students opting to learn remotely to participate in lessons in the same hands-on manner as their classmates.
To augment the STEM learning content, certified special education teachers have designed their classroom time to serve as extensions of that curriculum. Subjects such as technical education, art, music, and family consumer science are offered remotely in a rotation to minimize physical contact.
Although the school building is closed on Wednesdays for deep cleaning, Friendship Academy students and staff remain hard at work. Students attend fully-remote asynchronous lessons while teachers, therapists, and parents meet remotely to discuss student progress and update goals. Staff cohorts promote collaboration and planning to support students in lesson planning and data collection.
Since the pandemic began in March, a lot of lessons have been learned and improvements have been made to the ways in which our educators and support staff work with students. Friendship Academy has provided extra help for our families through an IT Help Desk to assist them in navigating the various technologies they are using for education and therapy; and work packets, art kits, and science bundles have been distributed to families to support at-home learning. Pizza kits and breakfast-to-go bundles have been made available for students struggling with hunger. As students have been welcomed back into the school in the blended learning model, we continue to adapt to ensure we are meeting our students’ needs.
“Every day I see us all trying new things, being creative, adaptable, and flexible – skills to teach our students about resilience.” shared Ms. Generalovich. “Every single day I see our staff and students outshine themselves in pursuing their shared goal of being at school, learning together.”
Learn more about our special education programs like Friendship Academy.
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