COVID-19 does not prevent Ann Arbor Academy from offering in-person tuition to students
ANN ARBOR, MI – Ann Arbor Academy has always sought to meet the needs of students with special needs, but the need to do so in person has never been more evident than it was during the COVID-19 pandemic, Director Meredith Schindler said .
For this purpose, the private, non-profit special school for students in grades 4 to 13 was converted into seven learning capsules so that individual lessons can take place since the beginning of the school year.
There was continued emphasis on providing students with traditional, multi-sensory learning experiences through project-based learning, even if it means adhering to the state’s strict health and safety protocols, said Schindler, who has worked at Southwest Ann Arbor School since 2000.
“We really did intentionally set up the curriculum this year to maximize their skills,” she said. “We had to think about what we would do every day in a normal school year and how we could bring that to the limited structure we will have.”
The Ann Arbor Academy’s mission is to enable students with diverse learning styles to thrive in an atmosphere that fosters social and academic trust and growth. This is especially important for a student population with learning and social difficulties such as ADHD, autism, and dyslexia, Schindler said.
Despite the challenges of offering face-to-face learning, the focus continued to be on offering students as many hands-on activities as possible, Schindler said.
Special areas of the school are dedicated to everything from making music to making sculptures to cooking. The school has also continued to focus on project-based learning, giving students time each morning to work on each of the six projects they will complete during the school year.
The school’s curriculum also features everything from advanced algebra and precomputing to American sign language and metalworking. During a typical year, students can do anything from animating their own movies to coding and IT work to learning life skills like paying their taxes.
Ninety percent of the school’s students are in college and those who are not completing vocational training, said Michael Barg, Ann Arbor Academy’s development director.
Bringing this experience to students face-to-face rather than through a screen opened students’ eyes to how much they truly enjoy the personal learning experience, said Ann Arbor Academy’s learning specialist Ben Polizzi.
“They only realize when it’s over that they need contact with the other students,” said Polizzi, who has worked at the academy for 10 years after retiring from teaching at the Ypsilanti Community Schools. “You have to get ideas apart. Even if it isn’t algebra that they miss, they miss going to school. “
Keeping students in “pods” or groups of 10 has enabled the academy to do this, Schindler said. With just under 70 personally enrolled students and another 10 students participating virtually, the academy only had to miss four days of face-to-face classes due to the precautions of COVID-19, apart from the state’s order to suspend personal high school learning last November.
While following coronavirus protocols creates additional difficulties face-to-face, it has helped high school students like Adam Townsend maintain a connection with other students while they are still working with his hands.
Townsend recently completed construction of an outdoor study area with another student so that students can work outside when the weather is nice.
“You feel more connected to other people,” said Townsend, who is in 10th grade. “You can tell them what’s going on. A screen does not always make you feel completely with the (teacher). “
The academy has also adjusted how it delivers less practical subjects like math, said teacher Andrew Touchberry. Since there may be students from three or four different math levels in the pods, the school had to switch to more personalized one-to-one tuition, according to Touchberry.
“Students tend to be more focused when they have a teacher there and feel like they are in an academic field,” said Touchberry. “While we have tools to do things that are more visual between us and the online children, especially with our hands-on children, a pencil and drawing a diagram tend to increase retention and improve skills significantly.”
In her sixth year at Ann Arbor Academy, 11th grade student Gwenyth Guidinger said she had a very different experience of home learning before deciding to attend the academy in person this year.
“I just like hanging out with my friends and seeing the teachers,” said Guidinger. “I was very distracted at home – it was a little difficult for me as the sound was cut off and the internet had problems. When the teacher is personal, I can concentrate better. “
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