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Reporting on the state of education in your community and across the country.

How One Cleveland High School Keeps Students Connected During Quarantine

Horizon Science Academy Cleveland High School is teaching students virtually while schools are ordered closed. [Horizon Science Academy Cleveland High School]
Horizon Science Academy Cleveland High School Under Pink Clouds

Updated: 4 p.m. Friday, April 17, 2020

When Gov. Mike DeWine first ordered all K-12 schools closed to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, teachers throughout Northeast Ohio scrambled to move their classes online.

Weeks into teaching virtually, schools like charter school Horizon Science Academy Cleveland High School are focused on keeping students educated and emotionally healthy. 

Horizon Science Academy Cleveland’s Dan Horton is among those adapting to teaching remotely.  His English class is rewriting one act of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” – which the students had just finished reading when they were told they’d be staying home from school for a while. The assignment is to put the play’s action in a different setting or time period.

Horizon Science Academy Cleveland High School teacher Dan Horton leads live online sessions with his English students from his home. [Dan Horton]

Horton posted the assignment instructions on Google Classroom, an online education platform, and held live video conferencing sessions to answer questions and show students an example of the assignment from the previous year.

“As much as you can type out directions, not all students are going to get it in that format,” Horton said. “Some of them need to hear it explained or see it explained, you know, on the screen in front of them by someone.”

Sophomore Caleb Haynes was one of several students in a live session with Horton and the intervention specialist, Tetyana Rozhnov, who focuses on helping the special needs students.

“It's two teachers in the class,” Haynes said. “So they were both on there talking about, ‘How is our weekend?’ and stuff. And helping us out with the assignment. So it was pretty nice.”

Sophomore Caleb Haynes works on an assignment on his computer at home. [Caleb Haynes]

But Haynes is pretty clear about the fact that that he would rather be working in a face-to-face classroom.

“I'm pretty good at learning by myself,” Haynes said. “But it would be better if I just go with the teacher because, you know, you get more things from a teacher instead of just looking online.”

Freshman Niy’Azha Norman agrees. She’s working on a draft of her Romeo and Juliet assignment, setting it in modern-day New York. But she misses Horton and her other teachers, and the direct line of communication she had with them in school.

“It’s kind of hard because of the fact that, like, you have to email them. They reply, but it takes a while. So you have to figure it out,” Norman said. “You can't just walk up to them and say, ‘Can you answer this question for me?’”

That’s what Horizon Science Academy Cleveland is navigating: teachers trying to engage students during a time when the very definition of a classroom has been upended and redefined. But the teachers are being inventive. 

Some, like algebra teacher Dale Horine, are creating YouTube videos so students can pause to work out a problem or rewind the video if they missed something. 

Factors beyond the complexities of accommodating different styles of learning are making quarantine even harder for the 378 students at Horizon Science Academy Cleveland. Most of them are eligible for free or reduced lunches, so they’re being directed to the free meals provided by the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. And according to Assistant Principal Megan McKinley, the staff has passed out roughly 50 Google Chromebooks to students in need.

“It's not even just kids that don't have computers,” said McKinley. “It's that there's so many different platforms that schools are using across the country and they don't necessarily work with the technology that the kids do have.”

Five students don’t have internet access at home, McKinley said, so they are turning in written assignments. And those are just the ones the school is aware of, but there could be more, since not every family filled out a survey when schools first closed the physical doors. 

McKinley recently told staff they need to check in with every student to see if they need anything. Teachers will still give out grades, but the school will also “respect each student’s situation” during the quarantine, McKinley said.

With that in mind, Horton says beyond his teaching process, he’s also focused on giving kids in his English class a reasonable workload. Foremost, he’s looking out for their emotional wellbeing.

“I think it's really important to be careful. We want to provide what we can education-wise,” Horton said. “But we just cannot get to the point where we're pushing too much and making them feel like they're failing or that they're overwhelmed.” 

And the students? It’s getting “boring over here” at home sheltering with his mom and brother, Haynes said. He’s ready to be back at school with his friends, learning in person.

Jenny Hamel is the host of the “Sound of Ideas.”