School of Adaptation: How An Indianapolis High School Is Getting To Know Students Virtually

By Dylan Peers McCoy
KIPP Indy Legacy chemistry teacher Shelene Baiyee

At 8 a.m. on a recent Friday at KIPP Indy Legacy High School, the teachers are dancing in the empty cafeteria.

The halls of the building are quiet because the school’s 250 students are logging on virtually. For teachers who will spend most of the day alone, the 45-second dance ritual generates a burst of energy to help fuel them through a long day ahead.

Then, for the next 19 minutes, teachers prepare for the day — reciting school values, discussing lessons, and setting goals. The meetings are also a moment to share what’s going on in their lives outside of school.

“You can’t be your best self at work if you are holding in all of these things,” Principal David Spencer told Chalkbeat. “We have been forced to make these very personal connections.”

Teachers at Legacy are among thousands in the U.S. leading classes over video this fall. Without the daily interactions in classrooms and halls that help them get to know students, they are spending the first weeks of school building relationships. Because they are not in the same room with students, teachers are striving to find new ways to keep their attention in class and push them to do schoolwork.

Educators must do more than muddle through remote learning at Legacy. The stakes are too high to let hardship derail high school even during a pandemic.

But it’s not easy. The coronavirus has upended students’ lives and education. While going to class virtually, they also are looking after younger siblings, working jobs, and dealing with illnesses in their families.

Over the coming months, Chalkbeat will follow how the pandemic is changing life for students, families, and educators at Legacy in Martindale-Brightwood, a predominantly Black neighborhood northeast of downtown. The high school, which currently has students in ninth and 10th grades, began the year entirely online. Leaders are expected to decide in the coming days whether to bring students back in person next month.

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