Week Eight: Teacher Appreciation Takes on New Meaning – An Update from the CEO

Good afternoon, FAmily,

As you may have seen on our social media pages last week, we celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week. Every year we make it a point to celebrate our educators, but this year, it took on a much deeper meaning.

I am so incredibly proud of how our teachers and staff have been able to nimbly adapt to the changing needs of our students, especially after Governor Murphy announced that we will not be able to return to our school facilities before the end of the 2019-20 school year. 

While we were sad to hear this news, we understand that this decision was made in the interest of protecting the health and well-being of our entire school community, and agree that it was the right call to make at this time. 

However, our school FAmily responded in such a positive and loving way with a renewed dedication to fulfilling our mission – TOGETHER – no matter what. The word “inspiring” doesn’t adequately describe my feelings. Since our FAmily said it better than I ever could, I’m delighted to share some fun photos and social media comments that celebrated our teachers, below. 

Last Thursday evening, we proudly hosted the first of a series of free virtual events that focus on supporting parents during this crisis. Organized by the Friends of Foundation Academy and hosted by Kimme Carlos, FA Trustee and Founder/CEO of the Urban Mental Health Alliance, with guest host Eric Bullock, Leader of Student Culture at our Primary School, the event was streamed live on our Facebook page

So far, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, as the event shared tips on how to prepare a supportive and focused home learning environment for scholars, tips for parents on ensuring they are taking good care of themselves, as well as our recently-published Trenton-based COVID-19 resource guide. If you missed it, you can watch the video replay on our Facebook page here

We’ll be hosting these free parenting support events every Thursday evening, so be sure to visit our Eventbrite page to RSVP for the upcoming webinars

In continuing with the theme I shared in my last update, the rest of my message today will turn it over to our teachers as they answer the question “How is it going with online instruction?” 

Below, you’ll hear from our teachers Tajh Laster, Danny Ly, Vianney Anzures, and Ryan Kiple, as they address how they are managing subject areas that may not lend themselves well to online instruction.

Mr. Tajh Laster, Foundation Academy Intermediate School Physical Education/Health Teacher

Q: How do you keep students consistently attending and ENGAGED during your online instruction?

A: With Physical Education, being creative and trying various instructional strategies has aided me well with keeping students attending and engaged. I go back to the drawing board daily and reflect on what needs to be altered for my upcoming classes and adjust accordingly. Allowing students the opportunity to get up and remain active during this time is a priority for me. This has allowed students a chance to move, remain fit, and stay healthy all while remaining at home.

In addition, I have collaborated with a local Karate Sensei, and students participate in a weekly karate class that they LOVE!!! Pairing such workouts with health “Mini-Lessons” has worked well, as students are excited to make connections to the work, exercise, and show what they have learned in performance-based assessments.

Q: Your subject area would not seem to lend itself well to online instruction. How do you do it?

A: It has been difficult, at times, to maintain the high level of instruction that I intend to give each day, however, it isn’t impossible. I have been able to research and find many resources to create instruction geared toward my specific students during this time. In addition, listening to students and welcoming their feedback has allowed me to implement what exactly is needed for each student. One may think that teaching Physical Education online would be nearly impossible, but during the current pandemic, health and exercise is what is driving both students and teachers during daily lessons. 

Mr. Danny Ly, Foundation Collegiate Academy High School Math Teacher

Q: How do you keep students consistently attending and ENGAGED during your online instruction?

A: I do my best to NOT overwhelm the students. If they believe they can actively participate and do the work in an online classroom, they will. And I try to add as much humor as I can to keep it light.  

Q: Your subject area would not seem to lend itself well to online instruction. How do you do it?

A: I will do anything to have my students do their best to learn. I write backwards because the Google Meet camera mirrors everything. I take slow steps and I do my best to build those connections.  I use as many visual aids as possible because I know a lot of my students are spatial learners. 

Ms. Vianney Anzures, Foundation Collegiate Academy High School Spanish Teacher

Q: How do you keep students consistently attending and ENGAGED during your online instruction?

A: Online learning has been difficult, but it’s during these difficult times that we must rise to the occasion and get creative. After all, getting creative is something that teachers know how to do well. During this time, I have tried to implement new technology into the lessons. I’ve tried to keep my lessons structured and consistent so that students can easily follow along. 

I have also included projects within the lessons. One project that I really enjoyed was our cooking project. Students recorded themselves cooking a family recipe while sharing the steps on how to make the dish in Spanish. Through this project, I was able to learn a little bit about their culture. I will continue to look for interesting ways to keep our students engaged in a creative way.

Q: Your subject area would not seem to lend itself well to online instruction. How do you do it?

A: Learning a new language could be very difficult, especially when you are doing it online. In order to keep my students from getting discouraged, I try to incorporate different activities that facilitate this new way of learning. I have students record themselves so I can give them feedback. Students already enjoy using technology, so I use their interests to engage them in my lessons. I also have them work in groups so that they can help each other. The higher-level classes are currently working in groups to prepare for a debate. 

Our students are high-achievers, so they will work hard to continue their education, but they are currently missing the social piece of education. By having them work in groups, it allows them to communicate with one another, even if it’s for a small amount of time.

Mr. Ryan Kiple, Foundation Collegiate Academy Strings Program Director

Q: How do you keep students consistently attending and ENGAGED during your online instruction?

A: It sounds simple, but communication has been crucial. I’m thankful that we have technology that enables us to reach our students and families in some way during this difficult time, however, I believe that nothing beats the regular in-person contact that we would normally get at school. I believe that this lack of regular in-person contact plays a major role in making some students feel isolated, disconnected, and lonely. To compensate for this, I make calls on a daily basis and constantly reach out to both students and parents to see how they are doing with school-related things, keep them updated on grades/trends, and just check up on everyone in general. My hope is that this communication continues to help my students to feel more connected, and as a result to feel more successful during online instruction. 

I also post public shout outs every day to celebrate student achievement in my class. Students deserve to be celebrated no matter what learning format we’re in. However, I believe that celebrating students more often when we’re online also helps to keep students more connected.

Q: Your subject area would not seem to lend itself well to online instruction. How do you do it?

A: Orchestra class is an ensemble-based class where students learn, practice, and perform music together. Online learning does not support this type of classroom environment, so we needed to make a drastic shift to more of a music theory class format. While this is not ideal and much different than what my students are used to, I continue to teach knowledge and skills that can be applied to in-person orchestra class as often as possible. In my interactions with students, I also make a deliberate effort to continually relate what we’re doing now to what we will be doing when we eventually return to school. The goal here is to make online learning as relevant and applicable as possible, even if the format is much different from what we would have in person.

I want to extend special thanks to each of the teachers who shared their honest observations and experiences this week. I am amazed by the resilience and innovation shown to make sure our students receive the enrichment that these areas of instruction contribute toward the development of the whole student. We are truly SO proud of our teachers!

In closing, I want to also send thanks to all who have responded to share your comments and feedback on these updates, as your input is sincerely valued.

Have a great week!

Yours in community,

Graig Weiss
Foundation Academies

P.S. If you’d like to help support our students as they face the many unforeseen challenges of this crisis, please consider making a donation online today.

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Graig Weiss

Graig Weiss served as the Chief Executive Officer of Foundation Academies from 2014-2022. He began 5 years before as Middle School Principal. A 2003 Teach for America corps member, Mr. Weiss taught Math and Science in the Bronx and the Dominican Republic prior to becoming an administrator and was selected as Teacher of the Year in 2007. Prior to entering the education field, Mr. Weiss worked in the financial services sector with Cambridge Associates, LLC in Boston, MA. He holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science in Finance and Accounting from the University of Pittsburgh, a Master of Science in Teaching from Fordham University, and a Master of Science in Educational Leadership from the University of Scranton.