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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

A West Side School Let Students Opt In To Hybrid Learning. They’re Outperforming Online-Only Students, Leaders Say

North Lawndale College Prep embraced an optional hybrid model to support essential workers' kids who would struggle to learn at home.

Classes at North Lawndale College Prep use strict social distancing and sanitation practices to keep students and teachers safe.
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NORTH LAWNDALE — A West Side charter school used a hybrid model for learning this fall, allowing parents to choose to keep kids at home full-time or send them to school two days a week.

After two months of half of the student body learning under the hybrid model and the other half going fully virtual, North Lawndale College Prep reported the hybrid students are significantly outperforming their virtual-only classmates. About 767 students attend the school.

The average academic performance of North Lawndale College Prep students took a hit due to the interruption in daily classes, said Kieran Palmer-Klein, the school’s academic director. But the grade-point averages of students doing all-virtual learning dipped more drastically compared to students attending in-person classes twice a week, leaders said school data shows.

RELATED: West Side Charter School Will Offer In-Person Classes To Better Support Essential Workers’ Families

“It’s very clear that the hybrid students are outperforming the virtual students by a wide margin,” Palmer-Klein said.

There are several factors contributing to the gap, administrators said. Some parents who are essential workers cannot work from home or monitor their children during school. Older students might also take on child care responsibilities for younger siblings during the day when their parents are working. And some families don’t have wifi or enough space for remote learning.

Students who have special needs or have individualized education programs are especially vulnerable to being left behind by the transition to virtual, said school administrator Tim Jones.

“Remote learning just doesn’t work for them. They need that in-person connection,” Jones said.

North Lawndale College Prep is split between a campus at 1615 S. Christiana Ave. and the Collins campus at Douglass Park, 1313 S. Sacramento Drive. Parents got to choose how their child would return to school, Palmer-Klein said.

To track the effectiveness of virtual learning, administrators compared the performance of students this year to their performance last year.

Students at the Christiana campus averaged about the same GPA last year. But now, virtual students are lagging a full grade point behind the students using the hybrid model, Palmer-Klein said.

At the Collins campus, students doing virtual learning are three-quarters of a grade point behind the hybrid group this year.

The school saw a similar gap in student engagement, with “more missing assignments for the virtual kids,” Palmer-Klein said. Hybrid students had a 15 percent higher attendance rate at the Christiana campus and 11 percent higher attendance rates at the Collins campus, he said.

“There’s just no substitution from being in a class where you’re able to get feedback from a teacher right in the moment. That’s much more difficult to do in a Zoom call,” Palmer-Klein said. “We’ve learned that you can do a hybrid model and keep people safe. We’re strict about it.”

North Lawndale College Prep students attending in-person classes are split into two groups, each of which attend school twice weekly on alternating days.

Class sizes are capped at 15 students, masks are mandatory and the school has increased its cleaning schedule and added hand sanitizer stations throughout the buildings. Start times, passing periods and dismissal times are staggered to avoid crowding, and all students have their temperatures checked before entering the building.

School officials declined to say if students, faculty or other staff at the school have tested positive for coronavirus. The state, which tracks cases via contract tracing data, shows no reported cases at the school.

“If you look like you’re gonna sneeze, they send you home. I know because they did it to my son,” said Kim Gardener, a parent of a junior doing hybrid classes at the Collins campus.

Gardener is able to work from home to make sure her kids stay on track with online classes. But the shift to online learning was tough because they have space limitations and overburdened wifi, she said.

Gardener’s son is an honor roll student, but when classes switched online last spring, she could see his engagement slip. His performance has improved significantly this fall by attending in-person classes twice a week, she said.

“It was frustrating because he’s a visual learner. He also needs to be able to ask questions and see you do it,” she said.

Social circumstances on the West Side make it important for families to have an in-person option, Jones said.

“Their parents are essential workers, or work nights,” Jones said. “There’s just a lot going on in the households.”

High schoolers often “forego their own learning experiences” to look after younger siblings doing virtual classes while parents are at work, Jones said. Some students struggling to adapt to online learning are also prioritizing work over school to support their families, Jones said.

“It’s caused this paralysis, where they just say, ‘You know what? I ain’t logging on today,'” he said. “Our scholars are seeing this as an opportunity to help their family’s financial situation.”

Newly released CPS data showed that racial gaps in student achievement widened this year across the district. A greater portion of students are receiving failing grades this year, and the low grades are more concentrated among Black and Latinx students, the Sun-Times reported.

Not all students need to be in-class to succeed, Gardener said. But since so many families in Lawndale face barriers to success in virtual learning, she is glad North Lawndale College Prep allowed families to opt-in to a hybrid model based on their needs.

“I honestly believe that everybody should have had a choice,” Gardener said.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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