Wednesday morning, the IU Northwest administration and education leaders from around the Region gathered virtually for the Chancellor’s Commission for Community Engagement meeting. The commission has continued its focus on community outreach and shed light on educators work in virtual K-12 learning during COVID-19 and student success.
IU Northwest Chancellor Ken Iwama, who stepped into the role at the beginning of August, began the meeting with a special presentation that explored the university’s investment in K-12 education and the community. He began the presentation by looking back at his time in higher education in Staten Island, New York, where he became interested in how to connect education and the community, and what institutions can do to address the number of students who go on to attend college.
“We all decided to partner with two to three high schools within the borough to advance the understanding of college readiness and for us to understand what is happening in the high schools,” Iwama said. “The administrators and staff at the local schools and our institution gathered together, bringing faculty from certain disciplines that aligned with the learning communities from the high schools and talking about what they’re doing in their institutions, do they know what’s happening, and how we can better collaborate to tighten up these pipelines from high school to college.”
“A recent Washington Post article titled ‘A lost generation’: Surge of research reveals students sliding backward, most vulnerable worst affected’ caught my eye,” Iwama continued. “It hits on the struggles of public school students and that we are at a critical juncture in education. Today you’ll hear from the responses from our great education leaders about how, during the age of COVID-19 and virtual learning, they have responded to that and how they have been able to pivot.”
Panelists and special attendees included:
- Ken Iwama, IU Northwest Chancellor
- Ellen Szarleta, Director of the Center for Urban and Regional Excellence
- Russ Marcinek, Principal of Crown Point High School
- Mike Beam, Assistant Vice President for School Partnerships and Senior Assistant Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Indiana University
- Mark Sperling, Interim Dean of the School of Education at Indiana University Northwest
- Peggy Buffington, Superintendent of the School City of Hobart
Buffington began her presentation with some background on how Hobart schools responded to COVID-19.
“When it comes to the relationship between college, careers, and K-12, our goal was to focus on these employability skills and work ethic that our employers want,” Buffington said. “Enter COVID-19, and everything and everyone changes. We all have had to make adjustments at every level.”
“Coming into class and seeing six feet of social distancing, learning and teaching with a mask on, and teaching behind a plexiglass barrier is different and makes us feel vulnerable,” she continued. “We had a lot of talks about that and about the importance of being real, about being real with the students and them being real with us.”
Buffington went on to emphasize how vulnerability can be a birthplace for innovation, creativity, and change. The Back-to-School Plan, a 43-page plan that highlighted what the new school year would look like for educators and students, featured a choice of live learning and e-learning, professional development for educators and students, wellness kits for families, and changes to what instructional time and student engagement looks like.
“We told students that they will have to be professional,” she said. “They will have professional development, learn self-discipline and self-control with our help, adapt with time management, use their Canvas calendars daily and more. We also hired a director of socially emotional learning to help us with student wellness and mindfulness.”
What the School City of Hobart calls Hobart University for Early College features 94 early college classes thanks to partnerships with Ivy Tech Community College, the Center of Workforce Innovations, NIPSCO, St. Mary Medical Center, and more. Hobart University for Early College continues to be a focus for the Brickies as they adapt to COVID-19’s new normal.
“We can’t lose sight of the fact that if they get early college classes in high school, especially now, it makes a huge difference on them completing high school and what their future looks like,” Buffington said. “That engagement has to be there. We do a lot of innovative work in our district with STEM and STEAM learning that students get to show off and compete.”
Buffington sees that online K-12 learning will continue to appeal to families in the future and it is the school district’s job to show that engagement does not waiver during online learning.
Marcinek also touched on how Crown Point handled back to school for the 2020-2021 year, starting with a hybrid model.
“We started the school year in what we called ‘Yellow,’ which was a hybrid model where students were attending in-person two days per week and two days per week they were online learners. Wednesdays were online-learning days for the whole district,” he said. “Students did a great job of adjusting to the safety measures and requirements.”
“Crown Point then moved to green, which is fully in-person with e-learning on Wednesdays, but once the second surge came, we went back to completely online,” he continued. “But what we have really struggled with is the non-engaged student.”
For some students, online learning comes easily, Crown Point High School administration found. For others, however, it is a difficult time for them as they do not have that same structure. Crown Point has addressed this issue by using similar methods and approaches they would use for in-person learning.
“We focus on the students who need extra help, and we formulate a plan with a team of people, including our assistant principals, our graduation coaches, counselors and more, to reach our most at-risk students,” Marcinek said. “We have had to rely on phone calls a lot, so we have spent a lot of time on the phone with students to see what is going on in their lives and how we can help them become more engaged.”
Next, Sperling went on to address the importance of school partnerships during this time.
“Every student is experiencing challenges they never would have thought of,” Sperling said. “It’s a new normal, so right now, there is nothing more important than school partnerships like these.”
Sperling went on to highlight the various partnerships IU Northwest has with local districts, specifically with Gary Community School Corporation and the new partnership with East Chicago Schools in development now. The partnership helps Gary Community School Corporation’s Emergency Permit Teachers earn their licenses.
“These teachers are in our Urban Teachers Education Program, which focuses on urban school education. It’s really important that we reach out and help them to set up the best program virtually and in-person,” he said. “We are delighted in these partnerships because they will help bring a better expertise to the K-12 classrooms, encouraging students to move toward university education.”
Beam emphasized how important these changes to education are.
“The future’s definitely here,” Beam said. “While there are certain things we look forward to leaving behind, blended learning and teaching, blended engagement, and more is our future.”