4 keys to online engagement at a Harlem charter system

Online learning provided students with more individualized attention at East Harlem Scholars Academies

Administrators at East Harlem Scholars Academies say student achievement held steady, and in some cases improved, after the sudden shift to online learning this spring.

The public charter system in New York City serves 1,500 pre-K through 12 students, 60% of whom are Latinx and 30% of whom speak only Spanish.

This summer, the system’s teachers and instructional staff have been designing an even more comprehensive blended learning program for the fall, says Robert S. Harvey, superintendent and senior managing director of East Harlem Scholars Academies.

“Online learning allowed us to balance our differentiation for students in ways that in-person doesn’t allow for because of a teacher’s extra responsibilities,” Harvey says. “When you remove lunch, recess and transition duties, teachers are able to use space and time to differentiate.”

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Harvey cited  other reasons for his system’s success with engagement in online learning:

1. Engagement anxiety: Online learning alleviated the “engagement anxiety” that makes some students hesitant to participate in a brick-and-mortar class. Online, students don’t feel as if all eyes are on them when they engage in discussions, Harvey says.

2. Self-pacing: Online learning was more conducive the the system’s students progressing at their own pace. There was less pressure on teachers to create lesson plans that required students to turn assignments in at the end of class. Teachers sldo had more time to review work with learners individually, Harvey says.

“Online, the pacing can be more fluid and student responsive,” he says. “We can give certain scholars more time, which feels a lot more inclusive.”

During online learning, the charter system also saw an increases in attendance and the amount of completed work students turned in.

3. One-on-one interactions: Teachers were able to have two to three one-on-one interactions with each student while school were closed. Administrators also reached out to families every weekly to do wellness checks.

Teachers and students also got a day off every once in a while to refresh and take a break from sitting in front of their screens.


Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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