KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This school year is the very first one for Kansas City Girls Preparatory Academy.
It's the first all girls charter school in the metro. While they were expecting a few learning curves as they welcomed new fifth graders in the fall, the spring threw in a number of surprises.
Roughly 20 staff members and 100 girls are part of the first school year.
Principal Tara Haskins said since the pandemic, they've been very intentional about not redesigning their school model in one day.
"It's going to look different than maybe what we planned," Haskins said. "How are we listening to our community, how are we listening to our kids, how are we listening to our families to make sure that our choices are aligned to the needs of our community around us?"
Their main focus right now is community and connection, which Haskins said has helped them grow in remote learning.
"Every Friday we have a zoom call with our girls, and we have something called PRIDE, which is like an advisory model of a family within a family, where they come together as a crowd and they just get to see each other," Haskins said.
She says it's important the girls still felt that sense of connection and sisterhood.
"Which is the priority we said for our school," Haskins said. "We know we have academic gains, but we realize that if our girls know that they are connected and have a family right here at KC Girls Prep, that is going to carry on for years and years to come, you know, especially as our school grows."
However, Haskins says there have been some challenges, including making sure each student scholar had what was needed for remote learning.
"The most challenging part is realizing that there are some inequities," Haskins said. "There are lots of inequities that kept us from moving forward. It took us a while to make sure we had Chromebooks, and every scholar will have WiFi access. That is our commitment as a school. And then when I look at the amount of scholars that just needed it, I was like wow."
With a team effort of teachers, staff and partnerships, as of this week, each student now has a Chromebook and WiFi hot spot capabilities.
They received funding from Sprint Foundation and partnered with LeanLab to secure hot spots for scholars.
Haskins stated School Smart KC and the Kemper Foundation also contributed funding to help them reach their goal of 100 percent of scholars with access to technology for remote instruction.
Haskins said another challenge was helping families who were dealing with specific barriers at home.
"Parents who cannot afford to stay home and work, they don't have the luxury of working at home, they don't have the luxury of saying, 'Hey I need to help my child with school work,' because they need to go to work to put food on their table," Haskins said. "They need to go to work to support their families, or even some families that, you know, who have been furloughed have lost their jobs, due to the pandemic. And I would say that's the most challenging thing, because we take a step back."
As a principal and a school leader, she stressed the importance of working with teachers and her team, to figure out how to get the educational tools needed for their students and families during this time.
"How can I expect a child to follow a rigid schedule when there are directed inequities that are keeping them from following that? And so the most challenging part as a school leader is finding out how can I address the needs with what I can control, while still honoring the commitment of giving our kids community and a high quality education," Haskins said. "Because it's not for me as a principal to decide that this child doesn't deserve it."
Throughout the past several weeks, KC Girls Prep has also reached out to other schools and began networking with them.
"They're sharing a lot of open resources and even taking calls with us when we have questions, so I'm really grateful. It's helped us to be very strategic," Haskins said. "We chose to go very slow in order to go fast. We started with learning packets, then we realized, no our kids miss their teachers, they need to see learning. So now our kids watch 20 minute videos and then they work independently and we have office hours for every content when it's due."
In addition to remote learning, teachers call their students' families for weekly checkups. There are also "step back sessions" where families can talk about what's going well and what needs adjusting.
While this school year has been full of surprises, they are looking forward to expanding to both fifth and sixth grade levels next school year. Their goal is to have 100 girls in each grade.
KC Girls Prep is also offering weekly meal deliveries. They partnered with First Student March through mid April. They now partner with Inspired Occasions to continue to offer weekly meal deliveries. You do not have to be a student of the school to be a part of the weekly meal delivery.