Since March of 2020, much of our teaching and learning at AGC has occurred remotely. It has been a year of challenges and changes for everyone and we are incredibly grateful for our families, students and staff who have stayed resilient and strong throughout the pandemic. Our students and teachers have adapted gracefully and improvised solutions to the many challenges of remote learning. Teachers and staff have shown unwavering dedication for our students and families and have continued to provide students with engaging learning experiences, rooted in AGC’s whole child philosophy.
After receiving input from staff and families and considering the risks and benefits, we have decided to open with a Hybrid Learning Model on March 1, 2021. We cannot wait to have students back at AGC to round out our 2020-2021 school year!
A Child-Centered, Out-of-the-Box Start to the School Year
Given our extended year model, we kicked off the school year on August 17 with an unprecedented approach to welcoming students and families back to school. In order to address the critical education, health, safety, and mental health needs of our students and families, AGC developed a unique hybrid, phased-in return to essential in-person learning supports, food access, mental health services, educational assessments and instruction. Thanks to the extraordinary dedication of our teachers and staff, AGC’s innovative and holistic start to the school year strategy included the following:
- Ensuring that 100% of AGC’s students begin the school year with internet access and technology to support remote learning.
- Ensuring that 100% of AGC’s students began the school year with a personal connection to their teacher through 1:1 in-person meetings (following safety protocols and held outdoors).
- Evaluating the socio-emotional needs and academic standing of all AGC students through authentic, in-person assessments within the first three weeks of the school year.
- Developing a safe, weather-protected, functional, welcoming, nature-based, outdoor learning environment for our K-8th grade students (which will be used when in-person learning resumes this spring).
- Providing three weekly, small-group, outdoor wellness programs, including nature walks and nutrition workshops, to the projected 2,052 family members of AGC students.
- Equipping AGC families with gardening materials to grow food at their homes. Involving family volunteers in the cultivation and distribution of our 36 raised-bed school garden produce.
- Providing freshly prepared meals for contact-free pick-up from our school locations to families and community members.
- Providing 12 weekly hours of behavioral health and counseling services to AGC students.
- In partnership with Urban Growers Collective, providing 100 weekly fresh produce boxes to food-insecure families.
This approach was rooted in AGC’s core pillars and commitment to serving the whole child and family and ensured that our students had solid footing as we jumped into a unique year.
Integrating Opportunities for Health, Mindfulness and Environmental Education
As a continuation of the start to our year, our staff has worked tirelessly to create engaging and impactful virtual lessons and activities for our students while also maintaining meaningful family engagement. Teachers have learned to navigate many different apps and platforms to enrich their lessons and make sure students have a positive and inquiry-based virtual learning experience, as close to in-person learning as possible. Teachers have continued to provide students with experiences as if they were in-person such as Healthy Cooking with Mr. Soto, Student Council (virtual edition), Green Team, Mindfulness and many more avenues for bringing our unique mission to life. When the weather was warm, we were also able to host students and families for different activities and lessons in our garden spaces, including yoga, gardening and nature walks.
Teachers have worked together with parents and families to troubleshoot technology issues, make sure students login on time for class, and to help create home learning environments that set our students up for success, including built-in brain and movement breaks along the way. We are so thankful for our incredible staff and families for making this bumpy transition to virtual learning as smooth as possible!
During the Pandemic, we have also been able to continue our community engagement initiatives. Every Tuesday, Urban Growers Collective’s Fresh Moves bus has still come to AGC to provide fresh, local produce to our neighbors and AGC families. On Thursdays, we have continued to provide free and hot meals to community members through our partnership with ChiFresh Kitchen. When the weather was warmer, we were able to partner with Urban Growers Collective to distribute fresh produce boxes to families and community members.
Planning for a Return to a Nature-Based Hybrid Learning Model
After surveying families and staff, we decided to move to our Hybrid Model on March 1, 2021. Families were able to opt-in for hybrid learning and we have about 42% of students returning to AGC for remote learning. Since more than half of our students will remain remote, teachers will engage in synchronous teaching where they will teach lessons at school in front of students, and podcast this lesson at the same time for remote students. We will alter our schedule and students and staff will be at our two buildings every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday to reserve Wednesday for deep-cleaning. Students will arrive on a staggered schedule and the school day will be altered to support high quality teaching and learning.
Aligned with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), we have developed a comprehensive set of risk-mitigation strategies to ensure our safe return to school. We will continue to have health screeners for anyone entering the building, require protective gear on campus and enforce social distancing and sanitizing. We will require air filtration in each room of our two buildings with air filtration units and open windows. As the weather improves in Chicago, we will maximize the use of our outdoor learning spaces and have invested in nature-based learning infrastructure. Our students will be learning in PODs that will stay together all day in an exclusive space in order to minimize exposure. We will continue to provide a scratch-made, organic and nutritionally balanced breakfast and lunch for students and will adapt appropriately to have picnic-style meals.
We are incredibly grateful for the community of families and teachers at AGC who are making this unique hybrid model possible! We cannot wait to open our doors to students again after a year of separation.