Is It Time for Our School to Go Back to In-Person Learning?

Danielle Jackson, CEO of Detroit’s U Prep Schools

At our charter school network in Detroit, we’ve been going to school virtually since the pandemic began in March. Nine months later, research is telling us that improved student outcomes – in many ways – are a direct result of in-person learning, based on the support and peer interaction that’s available in the physical classroom. Parents and students alike have become fatigued with online learning and our scholars’ love for learning seems to be dwindling. 

Even with the several check-ins that our staff completes with our families each week, and even as we continue to ideate on innovative and creative ways to engage students in this virtual space, it’s been rough. Recent reports indicate that Black and Brown elementary and middle school children are scoring lower nationally, when compared to last year, and it’s definitely happening at schools in Detroit, too. 

Many educators are beginning to feel defeated. Even I have grown frustrated and, at one point, insisted that we quickly develop a plan to get students back in the school building, ASAP! 

I soon realized that haste was not the answer, as COVID cases rose and new State mandates were enforced. The answer is a change in our mindset. In our vision statement, we express our commitment to providing a culturally responsive educational experience to all students. We also commit to empowering them to successfully accomplish their goals and become change agents in the community. 

Our vision statement doesn’t say that it only applies “if and when the timing, the environment and atmosphere are perfect or normal.” It simply states our commitment to our scholars. That shift, which admittedly had to start with me as CEO, sparked a renewed belief that we can and will stay true to our vision. 

If we identify that what we’re doing isn’t working, we are committed to going back to the table and redeveloping, just as we would if we were in our physical classrooms. I recently read an article in Education Week that spoke to my desire for a mindshift coupled with continued ideation and innovation. Focusing on increasing problem-solving skills and building new muscle in learner-centered approaches resonated most with me. It is an important part of our strategy of tailoring education to address the individual strengths, weaknesses and personal interests of every student. These skills are being honed and will continue even when we return to the school building for in-person learning. 

We cannot lead with the hovering thought that the only answer to improving our current learning challenges is rushing students back to in-person learning. The reality is, it is not safe for them right now. Additionally, it would not be responsible for us to force our teachers to be away from their own children, many of whom are also attending virtual classrooms from home.

We don’t know when State mandates and CDC regulations will allow us to return to full in-person learning here in Detroit, so we must adjust our thoughts, our practice and our pedagogy to match the  current situation. 

Our primary focus is on kids–first and always. At U Prep Schools in Detroit, we are committed to preparing every scholar, every type of learner, for success. This commitment remains regardless of the environment or any national crisis. Every child will succeed, every family will be supported and every teacher will continue to be properly trained and developed. This is our commitment to U! 

University Prep Schools provides a culturally responsive educational experience for our scholars that builds academic competence, habits of work and scholarship, and self-actualization empowering them to successfully accomplish their post-secondary plans, as well as socially and civically engaged as change agents for themselves and their community,