Uni High update from Interim Director Elizabeth Majerus
As we begin a new school year, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Uni, like so many schools around the US and around the world, to rethink what it means to be a school. And yet, Uni remains a community, committed to challenging and engaging our students.
Uni teachers worked hard over the summer to prepare for this unprecedented year. Our faculty participated in a series of professional development workshops in June and August, focused on remote learning resources, active learning practices, problem-based learning, and peer-to-peer skill- and resource-sharing. We created a Health and Safety Task Force to help keep Uni abreast of evolving research on COVID-19 and its implications for schools. At the end of July, that group determined that the safest thing for our students and faculty was beginning the school year with all-remote learning. By the time school began, all of the local public high schools in Champaign-Urbana were also planning a remote first quarter.
Our faculty has been working hard in the weeks since school began to make school as engaging and meaningful as possible in this all-remote context. It’s a balancing act, creating classes that inspire and challenge students, without overwhelming them. We know that our students need the normalcy, connection, and inspiration that school provides, but we also understand that time and energy spent on school in this remote context is not equivalent to time and energy spent in our usual in-person school setting. As 2020-21 proceeds, and we strive to strike this balance in ways that are beneficial for the majority of our students, we will be seeking regular input from students and families.
Throughout this unpredictable and often difficult process, though, the support of our larger community has been invaluable. Funds from Uni’s Innovations in Learning campaign have enabled us to both provide our teachers with the technology resources they need to improve their remote classrooms and to offer technology support to students, in the form of Internet resources for families and loanable technology for students. These efforts have been facilitated to a great extent by our newly hired half-time Coordinator of Equity and Public Engagement, Valerie O’Brien (who also teaches in the English department half-time). Establishing the Coordinator of Equity and Public Engagement this year represents the first time in my more than twenty years at Uni that we have a staff member working on issues of equity, inclusion, and public engagement as a central aspect of their job, and I feel confident this investment will help Uni to do even better work serving our whole community and all of our students.