“I learned a new thing today called dividing,” Abriella tells us proudly over video chat. Like all other KIPPsters, since March 19, 2020, this curious kindergartner from KIPP Elements in the Bronx has been learning from home during the Coronavirus pandemic.
The classic KIPP value of “Find a way, or make one,” is in full effect for all 15 KIPP NYC schools and the KIPP Through College and Career Program. “When we realized we had to move everything online and I immediately started thinking about what works for kids,” says Abriella’s principal, Diamond Graham. “First we needed to get people set up and comfortable. And so once most families were able to log in, then we started teaching them how to upload work, then how to use the video chat with their teachers and their classmates.”

On top of her schoolwork and technology, there’s a whole new world of time management for Abriella, and her mother Erika to figure out. Abriella’s school provides a daily schedule, and Erika customizes it to make it work for everybody. A typical day starts with some chores, breakfast, and then logging on to learn using Clever, a portal that gives Abriella access to learning tools like Google Classroom, Zearn, and her new favorite program, myON, a virtual library of new books to discover.

“We go on Clever, and Google Classrooms, it’s very easy, you just click on the first thing to do and it just pops up,” says Erika. Some learning activities are similar to what Abriella would do in school, but others get an at-home twist, like practicing sight words. “It’s great that they have added activities with sight words versus just writing them out,” Erika says as she records Abriella jumping like a frog from sight word to sight word that are written on index cards spread across the floor.

Several times a week, Abriella has a one-on-one video chat with her teachers where they can review work, read along together, and work on new math strategies. There are also self-guided lessons and activities that are pre-recorded for Abriella to engage with all week. While technology helps students connect to the bulk of their work, “old school” methods still apply. There is always time built into the day for independent reading, and for some work, there’s no better tool than a pencil and paper. “Some of the math she will do on the computer,” Erika says. “But I like to see her do it on paper, because it’s important to write it out and show the work.” For both writing and math, Erika takes photos of Abriella’s pencil and paper work and uploads it to Google Classroom for her teachers to evaluate.

KIPP Elements does its best to keep the community spirit alive for the staff and the students. At the end of the week, the school hosts Blast Off, a weekly shoutout of student excellence, where KIPPsters are awarded prizes like “Astronaut of the Week” for their efforts. The school’s focus on science and technology, including a robotics program, is something Abriella loves the most about the school. “Learning at home is amazing, but I miss doing science projects with my friends,” Abriella says. “When I grow up I want to be a scientist.”

“It was a joy to see all the students together in Blast Off,” Graham says. “The participation of families sending videos of what their kids are doing and wanting to stay connected and show that kids are still learning and showing their personal stories has been really encouraging, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how to bring that type of engagement back to the next school year.”