The school year will begin entirely virtual. What will this mean for TAF?

Washington state districts released their plans for the school year last week, with many opting for full distance learning in response to rising COVID-19 cases and an unclear plan to safely return to classrooms. This virtual move also represented unanimous decisions amongst the four districts TAF currently partners with: Federal Way Public Schools, Tacoma Public Schools, Seattle Public Schools, and Highline Public Schools. This change will have a significant impact on the direct support TAF provides to the seven partner schools in these districts and the way our early-career educators of color from the Martinez Fellowship navigate the school year.

Since March, TAF School Transformation coaches have been working on pivoting their work from in-person connections to supporting online, project-based learning. We first prioritized our work around equitable learning opportunities and educator self-care, holding space for them to process school closures and remote education. Then, we connected with teachers and administrators to understand the challenges and district requirements for online learning. We finished out the school year curating project-based learning (PBL) resources that supported our STEMbyTAF model for teachers, connecting with students as best we could, and conducting extensive research on how to deliver the curriculum if remote learning became standard in the fall.

So, what’s next?

In preparation for the upcoming school year, we’ve focused on supporting both teachers and students, recognizing teachers will be the first point of contact with the most impact on student engagement and learning outcomes. Of course, we’re also coordinating closely with school districts to support and supplement their remote learning plans. Our goal is that through close collaboration with teachers and districts, in-depth research and testing, and strengthened partnerships with companies, we will ensure we can meet students’ educational and social-emotional needs.

 “By the end of the four-week program, nearly 80% of the students reported knowing more about researching, uploading documents, presenting, and using online learning platforms, than before the start of Jumpstart.”

Working with students

Since early July, our summer Jumpstart programs for incoming sixth-graders at TAF@Saghalie and Washington Middle School have served as the trial run to guide our approach to delivering the STEMbyTAF experience virtually for the upcoming school year. Almost 100% of enrolled TAF@Saghalie students showed up to each online session, and we were able to bring in multiple professional volunteers to deliver workshops in financial literacy and coding. By the end of the four-week program, nearly 80% of the students reported knowing more about researching, uploading documents, presenting, and using online learning platforms, than before the start of Jumpstart. By the end of this week, we’ll also have the results from the Jr. Huskies Summer Academy at Washington Middle School. Using this information, our Coaches and Program Managers will spend the next month refining how we can provide the best combination of synchronous and asynchronous, or teacher-led online and individual offline learning for students.

TAF@Saghalie Virtual Jumpstart student holds up a creation from his STEM kit.
TAF@Saghalie Jumpstart student holds up a creation from his STEM kit.
TAF@Saghalie Virtual Jumpstart students builds a Komodo dragon while engaging in offline learning.
TAF@Saghalie Virtual Jumpstart students builds a Komodo dragon while engaging in offline learning.

While we are doing our best to identify challenges and work out the glaring kinks, our partner school districts are also working extremely hard to meet all students’ needs. Over the next month until school begins, and likely after, we plan to use the knowledge we currently have to serve students and closely coordinate with our partner districts — all of which will be implementing a version of distance learning.

It is unreasonable to think that the events that have occurred over the past several months have not put a magnifying glass to the country’s racial inequities.

Working with educators

This weekend, our 220 Martinez Fellows will have the opportunity to convene over three days through the Virtual Annual Summit, a conference to replace the annual in-person IslandWood retreat. Early-career and veteran educators of color will examine the intersection of their racial identity narrative and identity as an educator and discuss the effects of internalized White supremacy as an obstacle to liberation and providing students with learning that affirms student identities. The Summit will also cover how to return to the classroom. Fellows will discuss the importance of this moment, viewing this time as an opportunity to push for equitable teaching, keep administrative leaders and colleagues accountable, and institute new ways to engage learning.

Next week, teachers and administration from our five School Transformation schools and two Academies, TAF@Saghalie and Washington Middle School, will also participate in the annual STEMbyTAF Teacher Institute. Designed to ground educators in the STEMbyTAF pedagogy and “model the model,” teacher partners will learn critical educational technology and teaching resources, and equitable ways to help students explore topics and develop projects and meet standards in their home environments. In addition to reviewing how to re-enter teaching in the virtual landscape, the Institute will bring in the author of “So You Want to Talk About Race,” Ijeoma Oluo, to discuss race in education spaces. We’ll continue to center our work around the student, helping educators understand what grounding education in equity practices looks like, and how they can confront injustices head-on.

Teacher Institute Exercise on Racial Equity
During the 2019 Teacher Institute, teachers engaged in a post-it note exercise about the language used with black and brown students.

Throughout the spring and leading up to these learning opportunities for teachers and leaders this summer, TAF’s Education Team has reflected on ourselves, our practices, and our world,” shared Heather Lechner, TAF Executive Director of Education. “We’re using this time to ensure that our work embodies PBL practices through an equity lens and that we approach  our work and partnerships to centers around the students we serve and not ourselves.”

Throughout both the Summit and Insititute, educators will deepen their understanding of keeping equity central to their teaching and leading students as an anti-racist. It is unreasonable to think that the events that have occurred over the past several months have not put a magnifying glass to the country’s racial inequities. Our educators need to be ready to serve our students by identifying their blind spots in which they unconsciously perpetuate racism, and shifting to culturally inclusive and responsive teaching practices.

 “We are committed to being the best partner we can as we all work hard to support the social-emotional needs and academic futures of our students.” 

TRISH MILLINES DZIKO
Co-founder and Executive Director, TAF

Working with districts

As our partner districts are finalizing their plans for what remote learning will be, our job is to support each district’s decisions and coordinate ways to support the teachers and students at our school sites with STEM integration and project-based learning. We recognize that, initially, it may take some time to fine-tune the approach. Still, with our groundwork of piloting this summer, we are confident in delivering engaging lessons online.

Our team has participated in countless district discussions, and are ready to help execute each different plan. Our primary focus is going to be supporting the teachers to reach and engage the students. While the districts are strengthening their communication strategies, we’re building our capacity to step in where needed. This work comes in the form of bolstering our online Teacher Resource Center for teachers, adding team members to our Education Technology team, and securing new partnerships with organizations ready to support student learning throughout the school year through volunteerism and sponsorships.

“I could not be prouder of the thoughtful work our TAF educators have put in over the past few months as they made a huge pivot to provide online professional development,” said Trish Millines Dziko, TAF’s co-founder and Executive Director. “We are committed to being the best partner we can as we all work hard to support the social-emotional needs and academic futures of our students.” 

Our goal is to continue providing students with exciting, engaging learning opportunities. We hope to leverage our supportive network of corporate partners to continue offering industry-relevant experiences, and, most importantly, doing our due diligence to establish strong communication channels with our students and families. 

We are at a critical juncture in public education. As our nation grapples with multi-layered challenges regarding racial equity, the digital divide, and more — TAF continues to reimagine a school system where students can successfully learn regardless of whether they are physically in the classroom or not. We are persistently looking for ways to transform education where educators’ priority is to create an environment that will develop socially conscious students who have the skills necessary to create and lead in the world they envision.

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Screen-shot from Jumpstart student August’s presentation about Guatemala featuring a squawking rooster.Students working on laptops