Serving all students at LEARN Charter Schools

At LEARN Charter Schools, creating a safe and nurturing learning environment is of the greatest importance. It was not a new strategy — this is one of LEARN’s Core Values that guides life and learning at LEARN schools.

The LEARN teachers and staff are not strangers to taking care of one another and their scholars. But this past school year, with the COVID-19 pandemic spreading across the nation, this work took on a more profound meaning. LEARN 6 North Chicago | Great Lakes, serves a unique student population, with a large portion of them coming from military families. Tara Sheppard, the Social Worker at LEARN 6, described how her team, cohesive and collaborative before the pandemic, persevered to create a nurturing environment in order to take care of scholars and each other throughout this challenging time.

“One important way we took care of our scholars was through our weekly check-ins,” says Tara. Each teacher had a group of eight to ten scholars to call each week. This was set up to have one-on-one time with each scholar to make sure they were okay and continue building a relationship.” This regular practice started what would become some of the strongest teacher-scholar relationships Tara had ever seen in her career as a Social Worker.

In addition to those regular check-ins, LEARN 6 also maintained (and in many cases accelerated) the support programs that helped their scholars prior to the pandemic. These included:

  • The “Anchored4Life” program: This program, designed for military families, supports scholars who are in the middle of life transitions, whether they are moves, divorces, or deaths in the family. During the pandemic, families experienced countless transitions so Tara and the team brought kits containing stuffed animals, DVDs about their specific transition, and journals. They made sure that all scholars who were going through a tough transition received a kit, often meeting families outdoors, in the snow, and in socially distanced manners.
  • “Wolf Pack” survival kits: The team put together drawstring backpacks containing books, hand sanitizer, earbuds, stress toys, coloring books, among other things — all things that would help scholars while they worked remotely. All in all, they created 200 “Wolf Packs” for scholars.
  • Drive-Through Resource Fair in partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of Lake County: At the fair, dozens of local organizations with resources available to families gathered in the LEARN 6 parking lot. Families could then drive through to pick up resources as needed. This event was a success and will continue for school years to come.

By the end of this school year, the LEARN 6 community was able to return to school. They spent that time together learning and reconnecting with one another. “When we were able to see our scholars again, we were immensely joyful,” says Tara. “You could see the kids’ smiles on their faces — even with masks on! I am so thankful for our team’s herculean efforts to coordinate a safe return.”

One special moment of joy was during the Month of the Military Child. LEARN 6 has many scholars part of military families and Tara organizes classroom activities, assemblies and a celebratory breakfast for all military families at the school. This event also involves military speakers, a presentation from the local high school ROTC, and a big breakfast.

This year has been different, though, since it’s been challenging for the school community to gather in-person. Tara partnered with an organization called “Kids Rank” to participate in the “Move a Mile for Military Families” fun run. It was an exciting way for kids to gather together, walk or run outside, and recognize their military peers. It was set up on the walking path outside of the schools. Beginning and ending with a big balloon arch, classes came out and walked a mile together to celebrate their military peers.

This school year has been unlike one that schools and families have ever seen.  While it’s been filled with new hurdles on a nearly daily basis, the love and strength of the LEARN community has remained constant. That is one thing that will not change in the school year to come.

As Tara said, “Whenever life felt hard for me, I tried to ground myself and bring life back into perspective. We’re all human. That was a challenging year and we were all in it together. The families that I work with were going through challenges, too. When I focused on supporting others, it helped me to get through my challenges.”