‘It’s totally boosted the morale’ – More than half of Durham charter students back in classrooms

North Carolina

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Hannah Smith’s sixth grade class is where teacher and students are now together for the first time since the pandemic sent everyone home.

“I love having kids back in the classroom. It’s totally boosted the morale not only of the students in the building, but also the students online. I feel like the discussions are more rich. I feel like they’re grasping the concepts a little more easily,” Smith said.

Principal Alex Quigley is also glad to see students back at Healthy Start Academy.

“It’s just great to be able to go and stand in the classroom and see teaching,” he said.

Quigley was brought on board to turn the charter school around as it faced possible closure due to low performance. He pulled it off, despite challenges presented by the pandemic. A month ago Durham’s Healthy Start Academy was approved for a 10-year charter, which is the longest term possible.

“That’s a huge accomplishment going from a three-year charter with a threat of closure to a 10-year charter. So, I think the State Board looked at the fact that we exceeded from multiple years as soon as we put in our turnaround plan and saw the direction that we’re going,” Quigley said.

Part of the direction, Quigley said, is to understand where students fell behind in the last year due to challenges brought on by the pandemic.

“I think, moving forward, we’re definitely going to have to pick up a little more of the extra knowledge. Maybe go back and re-teach some of the concepts from the year before,” Smith said.

She is teaching kids in the classroom and virtually at the same time. Families that chose the option to not have their children return to in-person learning can continue their classes virtually. About 55 percent of students are physically in the classroom.

Just as with other schools, Quigley said end-of-grade testing will be crucial in figuring out where they are on target and where gaps are.

“Let’s have the test. Let’s see where we stand, and then let’s get to work.”

Students will soon take a practice EOG, which will also measure what work needs to be done.

Smith believes after what everyone has experienced, her students will succeed at the challenge.

“If they can get through this year, then we can get through any year,” she said.

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