Meeting Lucas for the first time

Colors at seaFor some students, remote learning has been a hurdle while for others, it’s transformed their lives for the better.  Today I’m going to focus on the latter.

Lucas* is a 12th grader who initially started as a like-able yet hot-headed 9th grader—quick to get embroiled in conflict, yet also quick to smile.  Over the years, we saw him mature, and even see him as a calming force for some friends.

He also has some challenges: Lucas is the devoted father of a sweet 18-month-old baby.  However, as he has needed to take more responsibility in providing for his child, he started missing school in favor of work. He had never been a student who had it easy—schoolwork and staying focused seemed tough for him—but we were always able to get him on-track. This year, though, it was different: he’d be absent for a day, then two days, then a week, before we’d hear anything from him.  I started to wonder if he was going to drop out of high school.

Luckily, we found a potential solution: evening school.  We have a Young Adult Borough Center (YABC) in our building for older students that runs classes from 4pm-9pm, perfect for kids with complicated schedules like Lucas.  The program is great and has supported many of our students in graduating.  Lucas liked the idea so we introduced him to the YABC team.  He seemed excited for a fresh start.

However, the YABC team discovered a problem: according to a state test he took the year before, Lucas’s English levels were so low he’d need to take extra classes that the YABC wasn’t offering.  Not giving Lucas the classes would put the school out of compliance.

It was strange.  Lucas’s English levels had declined, yet he was speaking English better than ever.  What had happened?  Lucas confessed he’d blown off the test because he figured it didn’t matter.  He wasn’t wrong: the tests don’t count for graduation.  However, now, it mattered.

So here we were again: no way to make this new schedule work for Lucas.

Then the coronavirus struck and we entered remote learning.

As we handed out Chromebooks to students and put together our online classrooms, I wondered about Lucas: would we lose him now that we only had computers and phones to reach him?  Would he have the internal motivation to start his work?

Remarkably, Lucas is thriving online.  He completes his assignments on his own time, at his own pace, but hands them in by the deadlines.  He posts insightful comments.   He wrote a reflection in his English class about the “rich things” he has learned from his teachers.  He even joins the “office hours,” in which our teachers run a live videoconference.  He dials in from the warehouse where he works, sometimes just for a few minutes to say hi.  When I checked his grades, they had risen from failing to solid grades in the 80s.  He is on-track to graduate in June.

For Lucas, what was taking months to solve was handled the day schools were closed and we handed him a Chromebook.

I started making a list titled “Things we should keep doing in education after quarantine.” Here are three that apply to Lucas: 1. Not all learning has to take place inside a classroom, 2. Continue to believe in the impossible, 3. If a change is needed to support students, make it in a day rather than a year.

Is online learning working for all kids in my school at this moment?  No, there are also kids who are struggling, and I’ll write about them too.

But there are a lot of kids who are thriving.  Like Lucas, a devoted father, a responsible employee, and an eager student I’m getting to meet for the first time.

*The names of students have been changed.  

Photo credit: Thomas Leth-Olsen, Creative Commons License. 

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