Kenilworth District Sees Opportunities for Growth Amid Learning Loss Concerns

Kenilworth District Sees Opportunities for Growth Amid Learning Loss Concerns
Posted on 06/02/2021

KENILWORTH, N.J. -- As the school year winds down, many districts are beginning to confront the realities of learning loss. Kenilworth School District isn’t one of them. That’s because the K-12 Union County district has been tackling the academic gaps related to COVID since the start of the school year.

Those supportive strategies continue, but Kenilworth is also developing summer enrichment programs where middle schoolers can pursue “passion projects,” touting the success of expanded interventions, and talking up plans to accelerate learning.

“Accelerated learning has such an optimistic ring to it,” Superintendent of Schools Kyle Arlington said. “Educating our students during the pandemic has inspired us to become even more creative in our instruction and more collaborative in our work. As we prepare for summer programming and the next school year, we’re excited about new opportunities.

“At the same time, we’re working hard to make sure our students have mastered skills and are prepared for the next grade level.”

Largely because of these 2020-21 academic interventions, Kenilworth doesn’t buy into the sense of inevitability regarding widespread learning loss.

Emotional Safety Nets

Early on, Kenilworth recognized that students would need a high level of emotional support when they returned in the fall.

Staff members who were trained in trauma-informed and resilient teaching ensured that all students receive the basic level of social and emotional support. Students with greater needs received a combination of small group, individual and crisis interventions.

Counseling teams coordinated with elementary school teachers on interventions, and followed up with parents to assess needs for counseling, community resources and technology assistance.

The district’s elementary school started the school year with five days of in-person learning. The district later offered the five-day opportunity to older students who were struggling and needed the added support. Middle school students also were invited to participate in specific social and emotional skill groups, such as Girl Empowerment and Boys’ Group.

The district’s Crisis Team led the intervention efforts for high school students to triage student cases, review evidence specific to students in need, identify appropriate supports, and work with teachers and parents to implement plans.

Academic Strategies

As students settled into the school year, Kenilworth’s interventions evolved to include more of an academic component.

The elementary school formed an Intervention Advisory Team to focus on changing student needs, and to lead the shift of remediation and intervention programs from grade-level to skill-based groups. The team also is planning enhancements for the WIN (What I Need) period designed to help students in need of extra support.

In a strong example of accelerated learning success, primary-grade students recorded the highest reading achievement levels in years after the implementation of research-based Orton-Gillingham literacy program.

Specially designated intervention teachers are working with struggling middle schoolers, either one-on-one or in groups. By coordinating with the students’ core subject teachers, the intervention teachers get a better understanding of how to help. They work on foundational skills such as organizing assignments and setting realistic short-term goals.

High school students at risk of failing a core subject also are receiving extra help. The high school launched the Portfolio Process, a program that offers students a chance to pass the class if they complete focused online coursework, project-based assignments and a final assessment over the last three months of school.

Summer Preview

Kenilworth will leverage federal emergency funds to extend summer programming to more students across all grade levels.

The district is also expanding the traditional structure of summer learning with hands-on enrichment activities. The middle school “Back 2 Basics” program will apply math concepts to kitchen and science experiments; offer opportunities for sports and art; and allow students to pursue passion projects of their choosing. A focus on social and emotional support will help students reconnect with their peers and reacclimatize to typical school experiences.

Teachers also will stay connected to school over the summer with professional learning opportunities provided by the district’s Curriculum & Instruction team. The professional development will be designed to help meet the increasingly wide range of students’ needs.

The district will continue using newly discovered online tools like Mystery Science, which draws on videos and hands-on lessons to engage elementary students, and Pear Deck, which interacts with Google Slides to help teachers build engaging instructional content.

“This year provided so many lessons about experimenting with new types of instruction, and the impact of focusing on students’ social and emotional needs,” Arlington said. “Many of the innovative approaches we discovered during the pandemic will become standard practice going forward.”
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