CAMDEN, NJ — While not ideal for Danielle Crudup, the mother of two Camden KIPP students, home instruction was something she took in stride.

It was March 13 when the renaissance school network shuttered its buildings in the city — in line with New Jersey institutions' response to COVID-19.

Remote learning packets were prepared for at least two weeks of work, and soon over one thousand laptops were distributed to students in order to begin virtual learning April 6. 

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Azerionna Crudup, 13, and her little brother, Mha-Ki, 7, were two of the approximate 1,500 students within the network citywide. They attend Whittier Middle School and Lanning Square Primary respectively. 

“A few months in it became much better, we settled into a schedule. But at first it was very challenging,” Crudup, a single-mother told TAPinto Camden in reflecting about the early days. “Even though I have to work 9-5, I was making sure they did all their assignments, their homework, and [corresponded] with teachers."

Crudup works as an assistant manager at Taco Bell - where daily temperature checks and strict rules over the handling of food became the new normal for her and co-workers. 

“I just prayed and let God take control,” she said. “At work we submit to checks, wash our hands, wear what we need to, and make sure we don’t cross-contaminate. Besides that prayer and planning have gotten me this far.”

Crudup said KIPP instructors were critical in not only providing instruction but going above and beyond. 

“You really saw the foundation our teachers built over the years, the strong relationships with the kids and families, when this all took place,” Drew Martin, Executive Director for the KIPP Cooper Norcross Academies (KCNA) in Camden, said in an interview. “You saw many teachers taking extra steps to make things easier for them.”

That included 4th grade Whittier school teacher Danyel Williams, who troubleshooted internet issues with parents, and Charles Lane, a music teacher at Lanning Square, who hand-delivered instruments to students. 

While online courses became the norm, buildings themselves have undergone deep cleaning — with other protocols are in the works as well. 

“Most recently, we’ve done a lot of piloting, so what we can have the appropriate plan in place if the governor says we can or can’t return in September,” Martin added.

Gov. Phil Murphy recently gave an overview over the return of colleges and universities, saying updates for pre-K through 12th grade are expected this week. The state’s secretary of higher education, Zakiya Smith Ellis, said a hybrid of in-person and online may be the reality for many college classrooms next year — what may be the case for youngers students as well.

Crudup is hopeful the habits she’s helped her children develop at home as far time management will ease the next “new norm.”  

“I’ve always helped them at home, even before the pandemic. This has mostly been about establishing routines,” she said. “In the process I definitely think I’ve been able to identify their strengths and weaknesses.”

For Mha-Ki keeping focused while at home has required an adjustment period — granted when he does home in, “he gets everything done quickly.” Azerionna, on the other hand, thrives when she’s in the classroom.

“We’ve managed through that by setting goals,” her mother said. “She schedules out challenges and things she wants to accomplish throughout the week.”

Martin joins in concerns district-wide over an academic slide — loss of learning as a result of students not having in-person instruction for the past few months.

“No matter which way we slice it, remote learning is not the same or effective as going into school,” he said. “Add to that many state assessments that were canceled this year, which makes it more difficult. It’s important as we [face this] that we know the extent of the slide.”

Some positive outcomes have resulted too, he noted, including teachers who’ve become skilled at using technology in creative ways and students who are better at learning more independently. 

KIPP recently held drive-by graduations. Check out some photos of the ceremony above.

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