Virtual School Meanderings

June 25, 2022

Happy Summer from Highlander Institute ūüėé

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Thank you for your partnership and support throughout this school year!


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Join the conversation as we partner with communities to design and implement culturally responsive school change.

Happy Summer!

Group photo of Highlander Institute team members

Highlander Institute is celebrating the end of a productive and meaningful retreat week. We’d like to thank all of the teachers, leaders, community educators, students, and families who collaborated with us around culturally responsive school change throughout the 2021-2022 school year.

As we wrap up this Friday, we are excited for two weeks of vacation ahead for the entire office team, from June 25 – July 8. If you are looking to connect, we’ll return on July 11th. In the meantime, we wish everyone a well-deserved, rejuvenating summer!


June 18, 2022

Honoring Juneteenth & Our Spring Resources Roundup

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News, research, & resources from Highlander Institute

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Join the conversation as we partner with communities to design and implement culturally responsive school change.

In this Week’s Issue

As we share more messaging and open source resources on our website this school year, we are curating regular summaries to give you a second look at what you might have missed. Explore below for a message honoring Juneteenth, followed by a recap of the content we’ve published since March. We hope these materials resonate with you and encourage you to send the links to your friends and colleagues!

Honoring Juneteenth

The Highlander Institute team will be observing the Juneteenth holiday, and will be hosting our full staff for an onsite retreat throughout the remainder of next week.

Juneteenth commemorates belated news of the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States, marked on the day June 19, 1865. This occasion, after a difficult school year and heartbreaking tragedies over the past month, brings a powerful opportunity to learn, build community, and recommit to meaningful work.

This week, our team reflected on joy as an act of resistance. While we as educators and coaches tackle hard and uncomfortable truths, we strive to infuse our work with joy and optimism. We recognized the distinction between joy and happiness, and shared stories from our school partnerships that center joy and positive student experiences in the face of challenge.

We’re also thinking back to December, when we signed on to¬†Nellie Mae Education Foundation’s Open Letter: Teach Us Everything. We believe that efforts to stop our students from learning about systemic racism serve only to maintain a system that directly creates the negative experiences and outcomes our students face, particularly for those from marginalized backgrounds. In order for our students to be engaged learners who are empowered to think for themselves, their learning should not be censored to appease those who are afraid of our students facing historical realities.

As the 2021-2022 school year comes to a close, we know how necessary it is to bring history and non-dominant perspectives to the forefront of all of our conversations and we remain committed to honoring truth with all of the partner schools we support.

Spring Resources Roundup

Top news featuring Highlander Institute. TNTP blog, NBC 10 I-Team, Highlander Institute Blog, K-12 Dive
Highlander Institute Spotlight Series logo

Spotlights: The What, Why, & How of Culturally Responsive & Sustaining Teacher Practices


June 14, 2022

New release: Free assessment tools for virtual and hybrid learning

These tools may also be of interest to some readers.

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New Tools from TLA to Support

Virtual & Hybrid Learning

Student with headphones on works in front of laptop
In March 2022, The Learning Accelerated launched the first of three Strategy Lab: Virtual & Hybrid cohorts to tackle the challenge of developing more effective, engaging, and equitable virtual and hybrid learning environments. As we worked alongside this set of innovative schools, we were soon met with a challenge: few models exist to help districts define quality in virtual and hybrid contexts.

To meet this need, TLA has designed and launched two research-based measurement tools ‚Äď an individual self-assessment and a team assessment ‚Äď to facilitate meaningful conversations about quality and help district teams identify potential problems of practice in their own context. We invite you to explore and use these two¬†free¬†tools within your own context, and share them with districts that may find them useful.


Learn more about the development of these resources in¬†this post on the TLA Blog, and access the tools we’ve created on TLA’s Resources and Guidance website:

If you have questions or comments about these tools, the work of the Strategy Lab: Virtual & Hybrid cohorts, or any TLA projects, reach out to us at

Tell us what’s on your mind on¬†social media¬†and

keep up with our work on the TLA Blog.

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The Learning Accelerator | 103 Roaring Brook Road, Portland, ME 04103

June 11, 2022

Join Us at ASU Prep Digital’s Summer Boot Camp

Filed under: virtual school — Michael K. Barbour @ 10:08 pm
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An item from a K-12 blended learning organization.

All participants will receive certificates for 6 hours of professional learning


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Join the conversation as we partner with communities to design and implement culturally responsive school change.

In This Week’s Issue

  • Join Us Next Week for the ASU Prep Digital Summer Boot Camp Series
  • Reflections from Sophia Academy’s Women of Wisdom Celebration
  • Know a HS or College Student? The Student Voice Team is Hiring¬†
ASU Prep Digital Summer Boot Camp Series June 14-16

Join Us Next Week for the ASU Prep Digital Summer Boot Camp Series

The school year may be ending soon, but educators and leaders can take full advantage of the Arizona Virtual Teacher Institute Summer Boot Camp. This training is provided at no cost to K-12 educators through the generous investment of the Arizona Department of Education, the Governor’s Office, Helios Education Foundation and Arizona State University.

This year’s Summer Boot Camp series offers 18 unique training sessions to choose from. Participants will be immersed in collaborative discussions and engaging tech tools during these live, guided workshops. Sessions began on June 7. Highlander Institute coaches are excited to lead our 3-day interactive event, Success Stories of Culturally Responsive School Change on June 14-16.

Attendees will earn professional development credit while gaining and strengthening the skills they need to succeed next year.

Sophia Academy logo & Christina Corser headshot

Reflections from Sophia Academy’s Women of Wisdom Celebration

By Christina Corser, Instructional Equity Partner at Highlander Institute

On May 26 I had the pleasure of joining the students and leaders of Sophia Academy for their¬†2022 Women of Wisdom Celebration. I’ve had the privilege of working with this team as their Instructional Equity Partner for the 2021-2022 school year, focusing on key insights from their Student Experience Survey and focus group responses.

As a last minute addition, I thought I was joining as an enthusiastic observer. I was surprised and delighted when I was offered a chair as a panelist¬†‚ÄĒ¬†one of three participants in a student-facilitated protocol. Fifth graders led small groups of other students, faculty, and visitors through a list of questions crafted to get at the heart of empowering and inspiring personal journeys:

  • Was your career a lifelong goal, or did you discover it along the way?
  • Are there things about your background, your race, or your gender that cause people to assume things about you? How do you deal with people who look at you and jump to conclusions about what you’re capable of?
  • Through your hardships, what keeps you going as a leader?
  • What advice did your mentors give you to become who you are today?

After small group discussions, we joined as a whole group to share themes and ideas. This was a day with many moving parts that the Sophia Academy team pulled off in such a seamless and meaningful way. Thank you for including my voice and stories and for inviting me to learn and listen with your community leaders.

From Other Organizations

Student Voice is Hiring

Join the Student Voice Team

Student Voice, a student-led nonprofit organization working to advance educational equity, is hiring high school and college students for part-time positions on their team. Open roles are available for young people with a variety of different interests, including organizing, storytelling and communications. They are also searching for a graphic designer and website administrator, open to both students and adult allies. All positions pay $15/hour at approximately 10 hrs/week depending on personal capacity, with additional opportunities for compensation at a higher rate available. All interested young people are encouraged to apply, regardless of previous professional experience.


June 4, 2022

Look to the Community to Address Complex Needs

Filed under: virtual school — Michael K. Barbour @ 10:03 pm
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An item from a K-12 blended learning organization.

2022 RI Kids Count Factbook highlights student chronic absenteeism


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Join the conversation as we partner with communities to design and implement culturally responsive school change.

In This Week’s Issue

  • Rhode Island KIDS COUNT releases 2022 Factbook
  • Connections to our CRSP research base & instructional practices
  • ‚ÄúLook to the Community‚ÄĚ: An Innovative Approach to Learning Pods in Central Falls blog post featured in TNTP
2022 RI Kids Count Factbook Highlights Student Chronic Absenteeism

Each year, the¬†Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Factbook¬†provides a statistical portrait of the status of Rhode Island’s children and families. This resource incorporates the best available research and data, tracking progress on 70 indicators across five areas of child well-being, including Education.

One key data point we’re highlighting today from the Factbook is the issue of chronic absenteeism, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“Forty-seven percent of Rhode Island‚Äôs low-income middle and high school students were chronically absent in 2020-2021, compared with 21% of higher-income students.” (p.156)

CRSP Framework icons. How does our approach address this critical issue of chronic absenteeism?

In addition to data and trends, the Factbook shares strategies and potential solutions:

“Schools, districts, and community partners can nurture a culture of attendance by increasing the feelings of belonging and connection for all students and families, raising awareness about the problem of chronic absence, encouraging parents to send their children to school every day in the early grades, developing a community response that involves mentoring outside of school, and recognizing and rewarding good¬†attendance.” (p.154)

We are encouraged that this recommendation aligns well with the research base behind our Culturally Responsive & Sustaining Pedagogy Framework, particularly the Awareness and Community Building Domains (pp.2-6). We know that students who feel a strong sense of belonging to their academic communities are more likely to engage in school, persist through challenges, and demonstrate positive academic outcomes.

Our partnerships make a difference

“Groups with the highest levels of chronic absence were also hardest hit by the COVID19 pandemic. Partnering with students, families, and community partners can help schools re-engage chronically absent students and address lost learning opportunities.” (p.156)

In the article featured below, learn more about how the Highlander Institute team has partnered with Freedom Dreams and the Central Falls School District to re-engage chronically absent ninth graders through an innovative learning pod model staffed by community educators.

TNTP blog post "Look to the Community" by Tatiana Baena & Lesdin Salazar

‚ÄúLook to the Community‚ÄĚ: An Innovative Approach to Learning Pods in Central Falls

Written for the TNTP Blog by Tatiana Baena & Lesdin Salazar, Director of Grants & Federal Programs and Project Manager for Equity Implementation, Central Falls School District

Our first instinct, as it always is in Central Falls, is to look to the community. And what we realized is that there were so many adults who would gladly step up for our students. So, together with partner organizations¬†Highlander Institute¬†and¬†Freedom Dreams, we put out the call, launching a pilot program of learning pods staffed by community members. We weren‚Äôt necessarily looking for folks with experience in education, or any particular credentials. We wanted pod leaders who had a connection to the community‚ÄĒraised here, currently live here, or work here‚ÄĒand wanted to make a difference for our kids.

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