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Students across the Achievement First public charter school network are learning online - and planning their days with in-home blackboard schedules.

Spreading the Joy of Learning Through Smiles and Social Media

May 19, 2020
Educators at Achievement First schools are inspiring, engaging their students from afar

There are many things that Samantha Lucky can’t control right now because of the coronavirus.

But the Connecticut educator says she can control her own attitude during a trying moment for her school and students. She has chosen joy.

“No matter what we are feeling or dealing with, I am someone who says, ‘Okay, what is good about today?’” says Samantha, principal at Achievement First Bridgeport Academy Elementary.

“I believe in sharing joy.”

Samantha Lucky is principal at Achievement First Bridgeport Academy Elementary in Connecticut.

Samantha has led the transition to remote learning for 465 students since her K-4 school closed on March 13, ensuring students have computers and Internet access, overseeing instruction plans and implementing a system of regular student-teacher and teacher-parent communication.

She has also become something of a YouTube personality in her school thanks to several popular videos she has posted to rally the spirits of students and staff.

Many of the videos celebrated the school’s virtual Spirit Week. On pajama day, Samantha appeared in polka-dot pajamas. On Sports Day, she wore a Golden State Warriors jersey. In another video, she addressed students in front of an Avengers movie background.

An Elementary School Principal Rallies Students with Joyful Messages
Samantha Lucky, principal at Achievement First Bridgeport Academy Elementary, keeps her students' spirits up remotely during the coronavirus crisis with videos like this one celebrating pajama day.

In each video, Samantha beams a wide smile and tells her scholars that she misses them and believes in them.

“It’s really important that students and parents know their school community is here for them. As a principal, they are on my mind every day,” says Samantha, who is in her first year as principal. “It’s important to show kindness to each other. If we demonstrate kindness at a time like this, our kids are going to be better people because of it.”

Through the power of social media, Samantha and her staff have kept students engaged even as they are unable to meet face to face.

They held a virtual dance challenge, asking students to use the popular Tik-Tok app to post short home videos of themselves and their families dancing. Submissions were posted to the school’s Facebook page.

A student at Achievement First Bridgeport Academy Elementary practices yoga during a remote learning session.

“There are children who at school are quiet and don’t speak out much. But being at home and getting that one-on-one contact with teachers, they are becoming confident enough to post their dances on Facebook. That’s inspiring.”

For parents, Samantha has hosted a Facebook Live session to answer questions about the school’s remote learning plan. Teachers are also joining in, posting pop-up videos in the morning for students.

Samantha’s leadership reflects the ‘whatever it takes’ approach at Achievement First, a network of public charter schools in New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

When the virus threat forced schools to close, the network organized distribution of more than 7,500 Chromebooks to students, including more than 2,800 in Connecticut.

In Bridgeport and network schools in Brooklyn, Hartford, New Haven, and Providence, Achievement First connected families with free “grab-and-go” meals.

In middle and high schools, students participate in classes via videoconferencing and can access small-group instruction. Elementary school students have structured assignments, regular 1:1 tutoring and group check-ins with teachers.

Students from Achievement First Bushwick Middle School in Brooklyn study at home during the coronavirus crisis.

The Achievement First network is also sharing its resources with others, as well, creating a website with educational resources for students anywhere to access.

Students are staying engaged.

Samantha’s Bridgeport school has recorded more than 90% attendance. And teachers are “following up with students to help scholars who may be struggling to complete work,” Samantha says.

“We love our kids and love being at school in person with them. Navigating this whole online world has been a challenge but my students have done an amazing job rising to the occasion.”

The thing that is on my mind the most is gratitude.
Samantha Lucky

Samantha’s concern extends to parents and teachers, who are forging closer partnerships in student education.

“A lot of our parents are essential workers and we want to support them, with phone calls three times a week,” she says. “We have to be flexible. If parents can’t talk three times a week, then let’s do once a week. Whatever it takes to make sure people are caring for themselves as people during this time.”

Samantha credits her teachers with keeping their school community motivated on a day-to-day basis by continuing to make those human connections that typically would occur in a classroom.

“The thing that is on my mind the most is gratitude. I hope people feel gratitude for those working so hard right now, for educators and parents,” she says.

“There are things you can complain about in a given day. But at the end of the day I am thankful for my health and everyone’s health and I know that, as a team, we will come through stronger than when we started.”

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