NEWARK, NJ — As New Jersey locks into distance learning for at least the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, KIPP’s Newark schools are rolling out their second phase of remote education to 4,800 students. 

In the weeks leading up to launch its virtual learning launch, Executive Director Joanna Belcher and her team were busy at work ensuring families had the necessary resources to make the plan a reality. 

After handing out laptops to 65% of its students and assisting with Internet and hotspot connection. On Monday, K-12 students at KIPP’s 11 schools logged on for the first day of total virtual learning, an undertaking that’s increasingly becoming as fundamental as reading in the age of the coronavirus. 

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“We have students who are as young as five years old who are getting on these platforms and students up through 12th grade,” Belcher said. “The good news is, our kids use computers in their classrooms in all of our schools as part of our regular instructional program so we felt really confident that students would be able to navigate some of the software programs that we’re using.” 

Part of the battle, Belcher added, is making sure families have the resources they need to be secure, even beyond laptops and WiFi. KIPP set up an emergency hotline to help families in the event that they’re struggling to purchase groceries, set up a workspace, and everything that pops up in between during a crisis. 

Regular virtual family meetings, which can be accessed online at any time, also serve to help guide parents as they take on home instruction. 

As for teachers, KIPP school leaders have been holding meetings and virtual staff development to get everyone on the same page, particularly when it comes to finding ways to nurture students from afar. Maintaining a connection between teachers and students during this time is crucial, Belcher says, and staff has been trained on how to do check-ins. 

Sixth-grade math teacher Mark Joseph, enthusiastically teaching his Google Classroom, calls out the names of students who did an exceptional job on their assignments. 

“You all crushed it today, great job!” Joseph says, highlighting his students’ accomplishments. It’s that kind of energy that KIPP, along with districts across the state, is hoping to bring to students’ homes through virtual education while COVID-19 keeps everyone indoors. 

Virtual learning has the added benefit of helping KIPP track attendance through a morning prompt. For students who don’t answer, teachers and administrators can contact parents to find out why and help them troubleshoot if necessary. 

“It’s also a way for our kids to still get connected to our teachers,” Belcher said.