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July-31-2020

Middle School Update for 2020-21 School Year

Dear Unity Middle School Families,

As our city and nation continue to navigate this pandemic, I found some comfort in the words of Ghanian author, Lailah Gifty Akita:

We are surrounded by adversity but we shall triumph because we have a greater spirit.”

I hope that you are all healthy, well, and finding time and space to refresh and rejuvenate your spirits during the summer months.  Mr. Burns and I are writing to provide an update regarding our latest thinking about the start of the 2020-21 school year and to invite you to an optional open forum for our families next Tuesday, July 28 at 4 PM.

Guiding Principles and Other Considerations

Over the past month, the leadership team across the middle and high school has been looking into a wide range of possibilities for fall instruction while closely monitoring recently released guidance from the state and the ongoing national debate about school reopenings.  In deciding on the best model for our community, we are using the following six design principles to guide our thinking:

  • We are prioritizing the well-being and safety of our community by following state and federal guidelines (and in some cases going beyond recommended guidelines given the needs and challenges of our stakeholders).
  • We are building on our recent successes with remote learning, including strong access to learning when remote, strong attendance, participation, synchronous teaching, and targeted interventions.
  • We are utilizing our strengths as a school and community, including our small size and ability to adjust to unknowns and our strong relationships with students and families.
  • We are planning with our most vulnerable students and community members in mind.
  • We are planning with equity and culturally responsive teaching at the forefront of our minds – that is, how we ensure that ALL students are experiencing academic growth and the most comprehensive educational experience possible.
  • Given the unknowns and evolving guidance we are receiving, we are striving for simplicity, feasibility, flexibility with a focus on execution and fidelity.

Fall Instructional Model:  Continued Synchronous Remote Instruction

Overall, we believe that the following model, which is largely similar to our work this spring, is the optimal model for our community given our experiences and the current situation.

We will continue with daily, synchronous, remote instruction via Zoom.  The schedule overall will be very similar to what we experienced March – June and we will actively work to build on what we developed in the spring.  We anticipate using this model until it is deemed safe to resume schooling in person. Our decision to transition back to in-person schooling will be based on health guidance from the city and state.

Please see a sample 6th grade schedule below:

1

8:00 – 8:45

Science

2

9:00 – 9:45

ELA

3

10:00 – 10:45

Math

4

11:00 – 11:45

History

5

12:00 – 12:45

Theatre

6

1:00 – 1:45

PE/Dance

(Monday/Thursday Only)

Community Meeting / Advisory

(Wednesday)

7

2:00 – 2:45

ELA Book Club / Tutoring (mandatory for select students)

Enhancements from Our Spring Instruction:

  • We will shift to 45-minute classes with 15-minute breaks.  This is in response to feedback from both staff and families that students would be able to better learn with more than 10 minutes to recharge and “unplug” in between classes.
  • We will provide optional in-person community building on Saturdays to expand our offerings to students and provide physical community to interested students without taking away from remote instruction during the week.
  • Every student will have one assigned staff member (advisor or other staff) to be an ally who advocates for the student.  As a part of this vital work, this ally will make regular (at least weekly) outreach to check in holistically with students and families.
  • We are considering utilizing our school space as a Safe Center for Online Learning (SCOL) by providing adult supervision to students taking part in remote learning while socially distanced and wearing face masks. There is an op-ed explaining the concept here.

The following questions are still unresolved.  We will gather information from our families via open forums and surveys to inform our decisions for programming in August.

  • Which class start time is preferable – 8 AM or 9 AM?
  • Should we have a designated lunch break in the middle of the day, or have students eat during their 15 minute breaks between classes?
  • How many students and families are interested in optional in-person Saturday community building?
  • How many students and families would want to take part in remote instruction in the school building while abiding by social distancing and face mask requirements?  How many can we accommodate?

Family Open Forums

Whether we are in-person or remote, Unity is here to provide our students with the best possible education in order to empower them as scholars and citizens.  Our connections with our families are the foundation of this work, and we deeply value your feedback.  We are holding an open forum next week via Zoom to hear from you before we finalize our schedule and model on Tuesday, 7/28 at 4 PM: https://zoom.us/j/98709525243.  We will send out a recording of the session and slides for any families who are not able to attend, and will gather and consider feedback from all stakeholders before finalizing our plan for the fall.

May you and your loved ones be healthy, happy, and fulfilled during these summer months.  We look forward to seeing many of you in the open forums next week!

In unity,

Ms. Gaines & Mr. Burns

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