Westhill High School’s Grade 9 Team is Calibrating for Success

COVID-19 Response

Imagine for a moment that you are a Grade 9 student. You’ve just been given your first high school schedule, and you’re coming to terms with the fact that you are going to have to learn a new school, make new friends, and adjust to the challenge of new content in the middle of a global pandemic.

You prepare to log into your first Google Meet on the first day. You open up the Google Classroom for your first period class and find the link for the Meet. You start to understand where documents live, where announcements will go, and how you’re notified of assignments. You think: I can do this! Then, you log into your second class and find that everything is in a different place. By the time you’ve made it through your first day, you’ve navigated up to seven or eight different Google Classroom structures, panicked a few times when you couldn’t find a link, and just worked up the courage as a shy 14-year-old to email one of your teachers to let them know you couldn’t find the syllabus on your drive.

Now imagine you’re trying to do all that while helping your little brother with his first day of second grade online. Or sharing a computer with your parent. Or trying to operate on a phone with spotty Wi-Fi.

The five Westhill Grade 9 team leaders, Erin Spata, Olga Mirontchik, Fatme Ayoub, Amparo Fabre, and Christine Mitchell along with their Assistant Principal, Peter Rinaldi, thought quite a bit about this experience–an experience that 9th grade students are having all over the country. “As educators and districts worked to rapidly adjust to a new model of education during the COVID-19 pandemic, many novel protocols were developed under very tight timelines,” shared Mr. Rinaldi. “Teachers were using vastly different systems both within Google Classroom itself and in how information was transferred between Google Classroom and PowerSchool. The result of these discrepant systems was an online educational environment that was difficult for many students and families to navigate, despite having the best intentions.”

Erin, Olga, Fatme, Amparo and Christine sat down at their first Grade 9 team leads meeting of the year and started sharing some ideas to address this challenge for students and families. Several of the leads agreed that they, along with their teammates, would first want to understand the different practices educators were using. As a result of that conversation, Erin created a Google form that could be used by the five Grade 9 teams at Westhill. The form asked teachers on each team to share a bit about their PowerSchool systems and Google Classroom structure: how do you denote missing assignments? Late assignments? Where do your assignments get posted? After collecting this information, the team leads spent time processing similarities and differences and then charged their individual teams with getting more aligned: “Our Grade 9 data teams worked diligently to norm our procedures around Google Classroom and PowerSchool with the goal of developing a single clear system that would be equitable and accessible to all students and families,” said Mr. Rinaldi. 

This norming work and push to examine virtual practice is not just something that Westhill is trying. Manchester High School educators, for example, joined each other’s Google Classrooms as “students” to try and understand the experience of the platform from the perspective of students and families. Westhill continues this conversation about how students are experiencing virtual and hybrid learning by facilitating ongoing focus groups with students who are struggling with their hybrid model in Grade 9. Across the network, RISE educators are working to ensure that any additional barriers–beyond coping with a global pandemic–are eased so that students are, first and foremost, focused on being successful 9th graders.