Noble’s Response in a Time of Crisis

By Anthony Briscoe, Senior Director of IT at Noble Network of Charter Schools

The world as we know it has changed. Specifically, the world of education. In recent weeks nations across the globe have come to a screeching halt of “life as normal”. As of March 28, 2020, all fifty states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have closed schools for several weeks and pending what may be the entire school year, due to the coronavirus outbreak. On March 29, 2020, the President of the United States announced federal guidelines strongly suggesting continued social distancing through April 30 of this year.

Educators, school staff, and network staff are working tirelessly to quickly shift their entire way of operating to continue educating our students by means of online learning opportunities and other resources being made available to families across the country.

Here at Noble, we’ve been able to navigate quickly to support our scholars and families across Chicago. Seven of our campuses are acting as food repositories for students, families, and the surrounding community. Ensuring our students stay engaged with educational material is secondary to providing the basic human need of sustenance. If they don’t have food it’s especially hard to focus on learning.

In the midst of all this, we’ve learned a great deal. While we’ve always known that our students come from various financial backgrounds, we’ve also recognized the equity gap between students who are classified as having displaced housing and families who don’t have either access to the internet or a computer at home. To bridge this gap, we’ve been actively calling our STLS (Students in Temporary Living Situations) families to ask them their needs in categories of technology (computer/internet), food, and medical care. We’ve made over 400 calls in a 48 hour period and we’ll continue extending ourselves until we touch base with all 12,000 of our students.

We are working tirelessly to shift to a remote learning environment. Since we are avid users of Google’s Educational Suite, the transition, for the most part, has been seamless and teachers are able to conduct full online video class sessions with their students.  Allocations are being made for students who do not have immediate access to technology at home. While it’s not the ideal situation and learning environment, schools’ administrators and teachers are committed to making this learning transition better for our students and families. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has shifted its initial policy from a “grade boosting” position and starting Tuesday, March 31, 2020, schools are expected to have a fully-integrated distance or remote learning plan/curriculum.

As a parent of a Muchin College Prep freshman, my child has been engaged with coursework in Physical Education, AP Geography, Algebra, Art, and Honors English consistently since the Tuesday after schools in Chicago were officially closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. This transition has not been difficult for us since we homeschooled our child from K-8. Yet, it has taken a toll on my daughter. She had begun to adjust to life in a classroom; our rides to school and home were great bonding times and we were growing closer in our relationship. Shifting back to “homeschooling” has been taxing on her psyche. She doesn’t get to see her friends or advisory cohort. There are some needs for our young people that not even Facetime, Zoom, or Google Duo can satisfy. She’s grateful to be in contact with those she can by mobile communication and though we do not know when we are hopeful in the near future she’ll once again be with her classmates.

We don’t know when we will be back in school. Currently, Alabama, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Vermont, and Virginia have closed their buildings for the entire year. One thing is sure, no matter how long we close our physical institutions, we must never close the opportunity for our students to learn. At Noble, we are taking a holistic approach by ensuring our students are socially and emotionally healthy during this new era in world history, and secondly, ensuring we equip our teachers with every resource available so they can continue being the amazing instructors they are born to be.