How DC charter schools make in-person learning work

School leaders offer insight into how hybrid in-person learning is working at Social Justice Public Charter School and Friendship Public Charter School.

WASHINGTON — Shanita Simms decided to send her children back to in-person learning at Social Justice Public Charter School after realizing virtual learning was not working for her family. Simms said her kids — in fifth and sixth grades — have been happier since returning to school. 

“I feel good about sending them back so far, because when they were at home, they weren’t getting that experience and the knowledge that they needed,” the mother of three said. “They were struggling.”

Social Justice is in its first year and welcomed students back to its building in Northeast’s Fort Totten neighborhood about a month ago. The charter school is small and only has 50 students in 5th and 6th grades. 

Myron Long, the school’s founder, said only 20% of their scholars are in the building, so everyone, whether in school or at home, is still learning online. 

“We wanted to continue using our virtual platform,” Long said. “We did that to minimize the contact between our teachers and students, because our number one job is to keep everyone safe.”  

When students arrive at Social Justice, they stand outside on their markers that are placed 6 feet apart and wait for their health screening, which includes a temperature check. They get hand sanitizer, put their things away, wash hands, sanitize their desks and eat breakfast. After every meal, they sanitize their stations and wash their hands.  

“Each week we conduct our own rubric to make sure our students and families are safe,” Long said. 

Simms believes that her children are benefiting from the in-person experience even if there are restrictions in place. 

“Even though they’re still six feet apart, they have that interaction with other kids,” she said. “They were missing that.”  

Students at Friendship Public Charter School have also been back in school and their outdoor learning spaces for about a month now.  School leaders said they started with 150 elementary, middle and high schoolers in five different campuses. 

Much like Social Justice, Friendship students still learn online with their personal items in boxes by their desks. They stay in cohorts of no more than nine students and only remove masks during lunch. 

“All of our Learning Hub team members undergo COVID testing on a bi-weekly basis,” Friendship Chief Academic Officer Vielka Scott-Marcus said. 

Scott-Marcus said the added safety measures are costly but necessary. 

“When you see scholars that need to be in a space, come into that space, ready to learn every day and ready to interact with their peers, even though we’re remote, you understand that it’s critical that we have this option for families,” she said. 

Friendship and Social Justice are just a handful of DC Public Charter schools that are currently offering hybrid learning. More schools are planning to follow suit after term 2 or in 2021. 

School leaders said what’s working for them is lots of planning, family feedback, small classes, staggered schedules and strict safety guidelines. Their measures of success are that children are thriving, learning in this new normal and everyone is healthy.

“I feel like as long as our health is good,” Simms said, “I’m on board with sending them back.” 

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