Learning during COVID-19: Milwaukee Excellence Charter School

Regular instruction — and school community — switched online just one day after statewide school closure

By: Isral DeBruin

As schools shift to serve students remotely during the COVID-19 crisis, some are emerging as standouts. These schools aren’t stopping at basic worksheet packets and instead are offering their students coordinated, school-wide, comprehensive distance learning. City Forward Collective is highlighting these schools to spread best practices and encourage others to keep students moving forward.

Students at Milwaukee Excellence Charter School picked up online learning right where they left off in their classrooms. The school’s virtual efforts launched March 17, just one day after Gov. Tony Evers ordered all Wisconsin schools closed to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

Milwaukee Excellence leaders and staff quickly created a plan to serve students, establishing clear expectations for students, parents, and teachers. Now, teachers regularly upload video lessons, quizzes, and other resources for students throughout the week, and students follow a daily schedule that approximates a regular school day.

That school day schedule includes opportunities for students to connect with one another as a means of maintaining community and limiting students’ sense of social isolation. The school even held a virtual spirit week that included a ‘virtual twin day,’ when students were encouraged to dress like a classmate and show off their twin outfits with photos and videos. Teachers are also making use of social media to foster connection.

Students are receiving individualized support, with teachers contacting every student by phone at least once per week. These calls allow educators to check in on students’ wellbeing, discuss progress on classwork, solve technology issues, and ensure students’ basic needs are being met. Outside of these dedicated check-in calls, teachers are available to students throughout regular school-day hours for further communication.

Despite the continued COVID-19 crisis, most aspects of the life of the Milwaukee Excellence school community have moved forward, using virtual tools to adapt to the new reality. Students are connecting with one another and their teachers. Daily progress is being made on learning goals. School leaders have continued to observe teacher lessons, and provide coaching and feedback. Even spring parent-teacher conferences moved forward as-usual. The Milwaukee Excellence team is working hard to keep students on track.

FACTS & FIGURES

Milwaukee Excellence is a public charter school authorized by the Milwaukee Board of School Directors.

  • Grades: 6–12
  • Enrollment: 434 students
  • Student demographics: 97.5% Black; 0.7% White; 1.2% Two or More Races
  • Students from economically disadvantaged households: 76.3%
  • Students with special needs: 14.1%
  • Students with limited English proficiency: 0%
  • State rating: Significantly Exceeds Expectations

2019–20 data from https://wisedash.dpi.wi.gov/

Isral DeBruin is director of strategy and communication at City Forward Collective. He is a former elementary school teacher and award-winning education reporter.

A Milwaukee nonprofit working with families, communities, and school teams to to foster more high-quality schools. Learn more: http://cityforwardcollective.org

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