Academy for Success: Keeping Community with Remote Learning

By Jack Smith, Santa Barbara Education Foundation

Back in March, when Kelly Choi, Director of the Academy for Success, announced to the students that they would be moving to remote learning, they initially thought the students could at least have some time at school. The students needed to have access to the support staff, get help with school work, and maintain their relationships even if it was just a few hours a week.

As the situation grew worse, they quickly realized that even this would not be allowed and that they would have to switch to remote learning for the remainder of the school year.

Before this transition, the Academy for Success changed the lives of students who self-identified as potential high school drop outs and offer them a well-monitored, three-year pathway to graduation and preparing them for life after high school. This program includes a robust support system centered around student needs and teaching them life skills for help beyond academics.
Now the Academy is facing new challenges since its methods rely so heavily on personal interactions and community building.

Luckily, the relationships between the students, teachers, and support staff were already firmly established. According to Kelly, “They’re so strong that we were able to reach out to the kids immediately. We were able to tell them what was going on, check in with them, see how they were doing, and just reassure them that they were not alone and that we would be helping them step-by-step.”

The support system these students had before remote learning still plays an active role in their lives. The Academy provides the same counselors, therapists, life coaches, mentors, and academic help they were before, now virtually.

Student activities and internships have been more difficult transitions. Still, teachers have been putting their creativity to work and are actively coming up with new ways to keep the students connected and having fun with each other.

It’s not just the Academy’s staff that’s been resourceful during this sudden transition. There are still numerous people checking in on the Academy to make sure it’s still providing the best support possible for the students. Some people have even delivered food to the students’ families whose parents have lost their jobs. “I​n this way, I would say the community is giving more to the kids than the kids can give to the community right now”, said Kelly.

As for academics, teachers have been able to implement more student choice into their teaching. Remote learning makes it more difficult for support staff to monitor student activity, forcing them to rely on what the students report. Because of this, teachers have focused on helping students identify what skills they need to learn and giving them more choice in how to go about it.

The Academy has always promoted student choice as a driver for school content and learning methods. Remote learning is allowing them to exercise this now more than ever for developing students’ life skills, social-emotional standards, and post-graduation plans.

According to Kelly, “We’ve already been on a journey of changing academics. We really believe that it’s time for education to change, and in a strange way this is giving us our opportunity to do so.”

The Academy for Success staff will continue to provide the support needed for their students and are still eager to expand the program to serve more students in the coming years.

Santa Barbara Education Foundation promotes private support of Santa Barbara’s public education system, serving over 15,000 students in 22 schools. For more information on The Academy of Success, visit www.santabarbaraeducation.org.

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