Hours after announcing that North Star Academy in Newark would close at the end of March 13 in order to keep students, staff and the overall community safe, educators there were hard at work figuring out how to transition 7,000 students to remote learning. 

Students in kindergarten through 8th grade went home with paper-based remote learning packets so that they could practice previously learned material while educators in those grades figured out a longer term plan.

But for North Star’s high school students, time was of the essence. 

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In just a few weeks, almost all of North Star high school students will take Advanced Placement Exams, now moved to at-home online exams administered by the College Board. Those tests are critical for students to get into the colleges and universities they want with the scholarships they need. 

So just four days after the bricks and mortar North Star shut down, a new online high school popped up – and students were back on track getting the instruction they need to ensure they continue to learn during the worldwide pandemic.

The majority of students qualify for free or reduced price lunch, and North Star continued – along with other public schools in the city – to provide free lunch at certain locations.

“If you are receiving this, it means we have launched online learning,” said North Star Washington Park High School Principal Michael Mann in a video sent to all students last Monday, March 16.  

Mann went on to make a presentation, sharing his screen with a slide deck, where the first slide read: “When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade.” He told the students that they have faced adversity in the past and have persevered, and that this situation – while highly unusual – was no different. 

Since that day, more than 1,000 North Star high school students have been taking classes online. Each day, students access a 20-minute instructional video on Google Classroom for each of their core academic classes and view it during the scheduled one-hour class period. During the remaining 40 minutes, students work on the classwork handout. Teachers are standing by on Zoom for any extra help or questions and also for classroom discussions. 

Teachers have reported huge successes and some silver linings. Students are getting an opportunity to work much more independently, skills that they will need in college. In addition, some students have reported that they are more able to go at their own pace by being able to rewatch videos and spend one-on-one time with teachers on the phone or via Zoom office hours.

“I feel like having a pre-recorded video allows them to learn at their own pace and take time to formulate meaningful questions to clarify what they don’t know,” said math teacher Bethany Hipple. 

Last Friday, on the 4th day of the online high school, attendance online was 96%, higher than the average day at North Star before the Coronavirus shutdowns. 

North Star Academy is the largest charter school network in New Jersey, serving predominantly students from low income households. The school serves 7,000 students in grades K through 12, and academically they outperform the wealthiest suburbs of New Jersey in both math and English language arts. 

North Star is part of the Uncommon Schools network of high performing charter schools whose mission is to ensure students enter into, succeed in, and graduate from college. North Star students have graduated from college at nearly five times the rate of the typical student from a low-income community. 

On Monday, March 30, North Star will launch the second phase of its remote learning, which will be geared for students in elementary and middle school. A family and student facing website will contain videos of master educators teaching various subjects, along with assignments that students will turn in and work on. Access to teachers via phone and Zoom will continue.