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District Begins School Year with Health of a Lion

Joe Lion welcome back

Joe Lion is the District’s new mascot for health and well-being. He's going to offer lots of tips and advice to our families and staff on how to be healthy like a lion this year.

District Begins School Year with Health of a Lion

By Nancy Cambria
Director of Communications

The School District of University City welcomed students back to school through distance learning on Monday, August 24, but not before students in nearly all grades were celebrated with yard signs, drive-thru welcomes, technology deliveries and more.

Though a rapid rise of COVID-19 cases over the summer presented District leaders with new challenges, the District begins the year with a confident plan that humanizes, personalizes and problematizes learning while weaving racial equity and well-being throughout.

“Though we had strategized for a safe, gradual and kind reopening of our school buildings and classrooms to students in August, the safety and well-being of our students, staff and families took precedence,” said Superintendent Sharonica Hardin- Bartley. “The decision to start the year virtually for all of our students was difficult. However, we had time to plan for it, and we are confident that we have developed a plan unique to University City that enhances learning while keeping in mind the critical social and emotional needs of our children during a worldwide pandemic.”

This is the first time ever that the District has started the school year without students in its classrooms and exemplifies the ongoing challenges of COVID-19. On March 23, 2020 – on the first official day of its spring break – the District made the painful decision to close its classrooms to students as the highly unknown new virus made its way into the region.

“We are confident that we have developed a plan unique to U. City that enhances learning while keeping in mind the critical social
and emotional needs of our children during a worldwide pandemic.”
Sharonica Hardin-Bartley
Superintendent of Schools

Under the motto of Health of a Lion, the 2020-21 school year has been painstakingly planned to ensure the health and well-being of our students, staff and teachers. Hardin-Bartley said the District approached this work with the understanding that rigorous learning must and will continue, but that daily routines both inside and outside of our schools will be very different and must always put the social and emotional health of our students and staff first.

Starting last April, internal and external community committees collaborated, researched and strategized to ensure that students and parents would have a choice on how their children would participate in learning during an uncertain pandemic. The District is offering two options for safe and effective learning in the upcoming school year.

Brick Academy – A blended learning model that will start online only, but will pivot to in-school instruction on some days and distance learning on other days when it is safe to return to school buildings. In this model, one group of preschool, elementary and middle school students will come to school on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other group with come on Thursdays and Fridays to ensure they are safely spaced apart in classrooms and common areas. On the days students are not in school they will participate in both live (synchronous) and self-directed (asynchronous) online work. In the high school, when it is safe, freshmen will eventually return to school five days a week, while upper grade-level students will continue distance learning. In the high school, students in grades 10-12 who need additional support to succeed will also attend in-person instruction five days a week. Middle and high school students will have access to optional learning centers in their schools where they can do their virtual learning in a monitored, physically distanced way. About 98% of our families have chosen this Brick Academy option.

Click Academy – a virtual learning option through Project Launch, an online-only education program based out of Springfield Schools, in which all work is done at home with the support of Launch curriculum and teachers. About 2 percent of our families selected this Click Academy option.

This issue of PRIDE is dedicated to communicating in detail what the school year will look like for students, staff and families and the resources available to our entire community to ensure rigorous learning and wellness in body and spirit. This issue also aims to tell just a few of the remarkable stories of student and staff resilience, academic excellence and community spirit that took place last spring and this summer when COVID-19 became a devastating reality for the District.

“The District has been honored and blessed to serve its students, families and the greater community during a crisis that harmed so many of our residents and children,” Hardin-Bartley said. “We move ahead with the belief our work will be courageous, kind and rigorous despite these challenges. We operate under the motto Health of a Lion, but we will always have the Heart of a Lion in the work we do with students.”

The District was ready for the first day of school. New teachers and staff joined together in both physically distanced, in-person activities as well as a variety of distance learning training and orientations. Veteran teachers and staff and new staff are trained in best practices regarding online instruction, student engagement and social-emotional wellness.

Our partners at Wyman along with Alive and Well Communities are working to ensure both students and staff are emotionally well and supported and that racial equity is ensured. When it is time to return to school buildings, we are ready. The District has a responsive sanitization plan; teachers and staff have a toolkit to effectively communicate social distancing and other precautions to our youngest of students; videos, Parent Cafés and a redesigned District website are underway to inform, inspire and support our families. Readers will find further details about all of these things inside this edition of PRIDE.

The School District of University City is proud to be a part of this amazing community. We are honored to educate University City’s children during these difficult times. We move forward with the Heart and Health of a Lion.