By Saraana Jamraj
Like all schools in Broward County, Somerset Academy has been practicing distance learning for the past two months. During this time, they have managed to take the task on with a sense of urgency, innovation, and engagement.
Located in Coral Springs, Somerset Academy Riverside, a K-8 Academia charter school pride themselves on their unique approach to learning and education.
Principal Geyler Castro said the 316-student school is unique in that, even before the pandemic, they had an open-door policy that made parents feel welcomed to visit with the administration to voice any concerns they might have.
Their lessons are focused on being interactive, and they have SmartBoards and computers in each classroom, with the intent of enhancing the students’ educational experiences.
Every Thursday, she said, the school sends home a “School to Home” communication folder, which streamlines the communication process for all parents to make them aware of upcoming deadlines, activities, and events.
They also host Parent Universities for families to teach them about how to access children’s grades, online learning resources, and the school’s curriculum.
“We highly encourage parental involvement, so on a typical week, you will see parents assisting in the cafeteria during lunchtime or in a classroom working on a project with the teacher and students,” said Castro.
Of course, a typical week is far from the current reality—but still, she said, they have been able to continue their high level of engagement and involvement.
After they closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the staff immediately received training on the virtual learning platform and conducted virtual orientations with their students the week before Spring Break so that they could be ready for full, live, virtual instructions.
“Our teachers were proactive and began planning virtual lessons, and our students and families were grateful for the opportunity to have virtual orientations and a daily class schedule to follow,” said Principal Castro.
Students follow a daily schedule online, attending live, virtual instruction from their classroom.
“Students are engaged and receiving instruction from their teacher. Also, they are receiving physical education, STEM, and Spanish daily,” said Castro.
All teachers are available for an hour a day during “office hours” so that students can meet with their teachers if they need extra assistance with their assignments and lessons.
When the virtual school day ends, virtual aftercare, called RAM TIME, begins. It is free of charge and allows students the opportunity to socialize with peers, play games, and request help from aftercare counselors on assignments.
“This model has helped maintain some normalcy for our students during this difficult time,” said Castro.
She said the families had given the school plenty of feedback during this time.
The Morell family has two students, one in kindergarten and another fifth grade who attend Somerset and have been thrilled with the progress their students have continued to make during the stay-at-home orders.
Within a week, they said four weeks of lessons were provided, and laptops were available for pickup.
“They are engaged all day, the teachers are creative and find different ways to keep the students excited about jumping online to say good morning every day. The transitions from classroom to online was an easy one,” said Gayle Morell.
Next year, Castro will serve as the principal of Somerset Parkland, but will also serve as the mentor principal for the Somerset Riverside administration.
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She has lived in Coral Springs since 2004.