Amidst crisis e-learning thrives at Bronzeville Academy Charter School

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STUDENTS AT Bronzeville Charter Academy on Chicago’s South Side playfully interact moments before a school photo is taken.

In the 1980s A-Team television series, the team’s leader Hannibal Smith was fond of saying, “I love it when a plan comes together.” That seems to be a line Simcha Baker-Dixon, principal at Bronzeville Academy Charter school might borrow. The unchecked spread of the COVID-19 virus has forced the Cottage Grove Avenue school, along with all others in the city, to close.

Baker-Dixon and her staff at the Cottage Grove Avenue school began planning last year to increase the use of technology at the STEM-focused charter school. Little did they know then that a worldwide pandemic would force the closure of all Chicago schools, including Bronzeville Academy Charter; and the latest technology would play a key role at the academy.

The plan and budgeting they put in place at that time is paying huge dividends, according to Baker-Dixon.

She noted that before the forced closure of in-person classes, students in all grades, kindergarten through eighth showed significant improvements in reading and math. The first-year principal is confident the gains in learning will continue.

Because of the disruptions COVID-19 is causing, Bronzeville Academy Charter students will have Chromebook laptops delivered to their homes.

There will be only one Chromebook per household even if there is more than one academy student in that house. Additionally, the school will supply free internet access to every family.

Baker-Dixon reiterated COVID-19 forced her and her team to accelerate e-learning plans as it became clear students would not be returning to the building after spring break this week.

The school also is making sure parents are continually informed of all changes and updates, Baker-Dixon said.

Class Dojo is the software teachers use to communicate with families and the principal described it as “extremely effective. We have 266 parents that we communicate with and about 84 percent of that communication occurs through that software platform.” The principal said the other takes place through emails, Google Voice “and a lot of parents have my personal cell number.”

The school’s teachers have ongoing communications with parents, another reason Baker-Dixon cited for student success. “Our third grade teacher, Iris Cooley, has 100 percent participation with parents and the same is true for Ms. Shanette Gaston’s kindergarten parents.”

School officials worked out a plan with food vendor Gorilla Gourmet to have meals delivered to the students’ homes, given they can’t get them at school.

“All of the parents were so grateful that we are being responsive to their needs. They were shocked when we told them about the (food) deliveries,” Baker-Dixon said.

She said during this time it is even more critical than usual that the school is a resource for parents. The closure has not stopped the academy from continuing to provide social services, including speech therapy.

“There also is a social emotional platform through our second step program,” noted Baker-Dixon.

“Here we help students with their coping mechanisms and strategies. Many of the students go through a lot before they come to school every day. Social workers deal with the special needs of our students and constraints placed on them going through the various stages of life…anti-bullying.”

She added that the Robert Crown organization provides info around hygiene, drug awareness and how to be interactive in a responsible and respectful manner.

Baker-Dixon added that the key to weathering the COVID-19 storm has a lot to do with the fact school officials realigned the budget last year to focus more on its STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) mission.

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