Lake Charles College Prep is finding that the mandated COVID-19 closure is bringing out the best in its specialized charter system. Shanice Williams, director of curriculum and instruction, said while Gov. John Bel Edward’s mandate came down on a Friday, the school’s staff began making plans for a potential closure at the mid-part of the week.
Staff distributed a technology survey to assess what students’ technology access was at home and at the official word of closure, LCCP was ready to roll out its Microsoft 365 platform to facilitate online instruction, Williams said.
“We have the advantage of our own system. We knew whatever we did, we could manage it because we have enough people, the want, drive and desire to manage it.”
The Louisiana Department of Education did not mandate but rather “encouraged” online education, she said. Instructional minutes requirements have been waived for students in order to matriculate to the next grade, however, she said, “One thing that has not been waived is Carnegie units.”
Essentially, high school students are still required to pass courses in order to move ahead. Conversely, “If they were failing before they left, they’re still failing,” she said.
“As a system, we needed to figure out a way to recover a kid. Distance education is a great way to recover and get them on track.”
LCCP determined that distance learning as the ideal way to assist students who were behind and keep successful students moving ahead.
Likening the month-long, or potentially longer close, to the “summer slide” students experience academically during the typical summer break, Williams said LCCP sees the continuation of learning during this time as essential to the school’s mission, not optional. “We firmly believe, if we don’t do something right now, you’re going to end up with a four to five-month gap.”
Determined to resume courses as soon as possible, LCCP’s staff met the Monday after the closure to learn about the new online platform and develop lesson plans. All major courses are now facilitated online including certain enrichment courses like art where students can take virtual tours of museums.
Williams said in addition to a revised lesson plan, teachers were required to come up with a remediation plan for students who may fall behind online.
“Teachers have to verbalize that plan before they give the assignment. Every kid is not going to master every objective and the old ways of after school tutoring is gone.”
The online platform is also allowing the high school to achieve its mission of preparing students for higher education. “Let’s really be college prep and prep them for what college is like,” Williams said, describing how teachers are using discussion boards to facilitate course work and teaching online etiquette.
“How all caps could mean that you’re yelling through the internet and other little nuances a 15- or 16-year-old might not recognize, but we’re teaching that long the way.”
Online education is not the only avenue LCCP is employing to keep students on track. Many school systems have hesitated to commit to online education due to the “equity piece” of technology access, Williams said.
“We’re trying to combat that on both ends. We have no problem being flexible.”
For students without computers or WiFi, the school’s online system can also be accessed through app on a cell phone. And for students with neither wifi or a cell phone, the school is mailing printed packets.
At the time of interview, Williams said at least 75 percent of the LCCP student body had successfully made the transition to the format. “We’ve had kids who do minimal work face to face actually thrive in the virtual setting.”
Though COVID-19 has changed much in how schools and school systems will be evaluated on a state level this year, Williams said the lack of standardized accountability is not an acceptable reason to become lax in curriculum expectations. LCCP is still ultimately accountable to the students it serves, she said.
“My measure of success is my students. My students deserve the best of me no matter what is required of me on the back end and the best of us is distance education. We’re going to continue to give them the standardsbased education that is required for them to be successful in the next level of life.”