School Curriculum Subcommittee meeting accommodates struggles with remote learning



School Curriculum Subcommittee members met on June 23 to discuss a new mathematics curriculum to accommodate the struggles of remote learning, specifically the METCO and Steps To Success Programs

Members of the School Curriculum Subcommittee came together virtually at 10 a.m. on June 23 to discuss potential plans for revising the mathematics curriculum for the 2020-21 school year. The Brookline School Curriculum Subcommittee (BSC) hopes to provide more resources and support for students of color, as well as those who struggled during remote learning.

The School Curriculum Subcommittee has prioritized conversations about professional development, curriculum changes and student perspectives, and introduced the request for district changes to the fall semester. Throughout remote learning, many students of color have been without physical learning aides and the meeting addressed the resulting problems, especially those relating to the new mathematics curriculum.

To introduce the current problems with remote learning for many students of color, the subcommittee talked about the two main groups that enroll them. The Steps to Success Program promotes educational equity for low-income students and the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO) enrolls chosen students of color into predominately white school districts for better educational opportunities.

Deputy Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Nicole Gittens explained that Steps to Success and METCO have not adjusted their expectations for their students, even though many of them have struggled with remote learning.

“Right now, there is a testing gap because of remote learning and the overall impact of COVID-19,” Gittens said. “I have talked with some Steps To Success and METCO families and they expect their students to perform well on tests, even with the colossal impacts remote learning has had on their learning environment.”

Gittens elaborated on those students who were heavily impacted and explained that the remote learning phase of this past school year has affected the resources and physical learning aides available to them.

“I believe COVID-19 has had a detrimental impact on some of our less fortunate students because remote learning takes away their abilities to get assistance and other resources that would normally be available,” Gittens said. “As a public school system, it is always our responsibility to provide students with the best resources and allow them to thrive under any circumstance.”

Gittens and the rest of the subcommittee presented a potential fall semester math curriculum. The new curriculum would accommodate students’ learning challenges. According to Gittens, even if the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) does not grant funding, the new curriculum will be presented to the school committee.

“Whether or not we receive the money given by DESE, we will provide the school committee with a new math curriculum for the fall semester,” Gittens said.

Another way in which students are supported is early morning and after school enrichment centers. For many students, remote learning has been challenging because these resources are no longer present.

Keith Lezama, a longtime member of the School Curriculum Subcommittee, described how the Calculus Project helps struggling students find their way through the mathematics curriculum.

“The goal of the Calculus Project [in Brookline] is to help African American and Latinx students that have struggled with some of the grade-level expectations. For many of these students, remote learning was a horrible experience,” Lezama said. “When and if school returns in the fall, it is our responsibility to support and communicate with those students the most.”

Lezama continued, explaining that there is a clear achievement gap between white students and students of color in STEM subjects within the Brookline Public Schools (BPS).

“When there is no constant support, our data shows that in Brookline, most students struggle the most with the science and mathematics classes,” Lezama said. “We have to address the problems with racial biases within some departments and how the majority of the impacted students come from minority groups because they do not currently have the necessary resources.”

Lezama said how his department and the subcommittee should prioritize shifting the mindset of the Calculus project in the fall if in-person school were to return.

“We often talk about students involved in the project as a deficit and with bad overtones, and we should change that approach to an encouraging and uplifting environment,” Lezama said. “This will help the students thrive and be successful and that can happen through the Calculus Project.”

Lezama also expressed how educators should help minority students because they have struggled with remote learning the most compared to many white students as supported by research through Education Week.

“We need professional development for many of our teachers because that changes the grades of many African American and Latinx students,” Lezama said. “In the fall, we should have many STEM teachers focus on their interactions with underperforming and underrepresented students across the district because that will cause dramatic changes.”

The METCO program has offered additional morning math support before school twice a week in the past. Lezama suggested METCO, and other departments, increase their resources and help centers for the upcoming school year because students will have more questions and concerns about the new material.

To conclude the meeting, Lezama stated his requests for all educators to prepare for a changing environment and accommodate for the remote learning period of the past school year.

“To have all of these requests implemented for the fall, we should create a professional development counsel to help teachers and paraprofessionals brainstorm action steps to help struggling students,” Lezama said. “We should have summer work for teachers that will prepare them for a changed curriculum, change in learning style, and change in pace.”