Helping Students With Learning and Social Challenges Thrive Through Virtual Learning

In-person learning may be on hold, but Aim High School in Farmington Hills is providing its students a full curriculum and the support needed to thrive — virtually.

A couple days before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer halted in-person learning as a way to flatten the coronavirus curve, the faculty at Aim High School in Farmington Hills — which teaches children in grades 6-12 with learning and social challenges — put together a remote learning platform they could launch immediately to keep their students and teachers connected.

“We decided it was best, especially for our kids, because they really need that contact; they need help with their assignments. Just sending work home with them was not going to help keep a normal standard and normal function to their day,” says Mike Earls, Aim High’s head of school. “We decided we were going to flip to an all-day video conferencing model with breaks.”

A fast, effective pivot

The change happened quickly, Earls notes. School shut down on a Thursday and the entire faculty got together the next day to discuss what platform would work best for their students (they chose Google Classroom, Google Hangouts and Google Meet). That following Monday, they rolled out the changes.

“Our parents have been thrilled about it because their kids have a structure to their day,” he says.

While the school has made some adjustments since beginning this online teaching journey, it has been overall successful for students and their families.

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Structure and relationships

The switch to learning at home isn’t easy for students or their parents — many of whom are balancing their own work from home. Because students thrive with structure, Aim High has kept consistency in any way possible.

Classes begins at 8:45 a.m., as they always would, and run until 2:30 p.m. Students are moving through new content during their classes while engaging with their teachers and classmates.

On Fridays, the faculty focuses on helping students who need additional assistance or time to finish their work that week; this is not a requirement for all students. The staff hosts study skills groups, which include eight teachers who hop on Google Meet or Google Hangouts to meet with kids. Each child is assigned a timeslot to meet with his or her teacher.

Learning new content is important, but keeping students connected to their teachers and classmates is an integral component to their overall success.

“It’s helped maintain the relationship and the connectivity that our kids have with our teachers, because that is everything,” Earls says. “That’s the pillar of our program and a key reason our students find the success that was elusive in other educational settings. It’s not just delivering content. It’s really focusing on how our students learn, knowing them personally, working with our parents to set goals and working with our students as individuals with the flexibility to adapt to them as they grow and change.”

Check-ins and well-being

Earls, who also teaches three classes on his own, has encouraged Aim High’s teachers to do well-being check-ins on a daily basis with their students, who are undoubtedly feeling the impact of the coronavirus crisis and all the changes it has brought.

From the content to the check-ins, Aim High’s students are thriving in this environment, and it’s something Earls is personally proud of.

“Our kids come to us from what seems to them hostile environments,” he says. “The first thing we focus on is the well-being of kids.”

They’ve always wanted to ensure students are in a good place and feeling good about themselves — and the same is true now. “They are safe, they can trust their teachers and the environment they are in.”

And through these difficult times, the students, faculty and parents have shined. Earls says he’s amazed and inspired by each student’s dedication to continued learning and growth under these challenging circumstances, in addition to the support parents have provided.

Content brought to you by Aim High School. For more information, visit aimhighschool.com.

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