Reflecting on a crazy year, and giving thanks for our MI charter educators

Heather Risner
Dec 16, 2020 3:43:04 PM

As 2020 winds down, many of us are breathing a collective sigh of relief, looking forward to a restful holiday break to regroup before we hit the ground running again in 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to dominate our lives, and so much remains just as unknown as it was back in March, when this all began. But there is one thing we know: our MI charter educators stepped up in incredible ways this year, and we are so proud. 

Like us, Oakland International Academy (K-4) Principal, Mahasti Shahidi, had no idea how significantly, and for how long, the pandemic would come to impact her school when it first broke. 

When the pandemic hit in March, I sincerely did not know when it would end. I felt that there was so much confusion about the pandemic, and at some point did not know how serious it was. When medical officials and Governor Whitmer explained the gravity of COVID-19, I began to realize that this could affect our lives educationally, emotionally, and physically for a long time.

- Mahasti Shahidi

But as the initial shutdown went from a couple weeks, to a month, then through the end of the 2019-20 school year, we watched in awe as our MI charter educators accepted the harsh reality that they would not see their students again in-person, and completely transformed the way they did school to close out the year with distance learning. 

For our schools, distance learning may have looked different campus to campus - every unique school community needed something different, and were experiencing the pandemic differently. The one common factor: teams of educators relentlessly worked to support their students and families. When it came to providing meal service, creatively finding internet access, lending a listening ear to families personally affected by COVID-19, and learning a whole new set of digital tools and programs, teachers, leaders and school staff simply went above and beyond. Mahasti's educators were among those incredible superheroes who stepped up. 

Our school motto is "Grit, Grace, & Gratitude." We show grit to cope with challenges; we work gracefully under pressure, and we are grateful for all the little things. This crazy year has demonstrated that every one of my educators is committed to that, even when facing enormous obstacles. I am so proud to work with my staff - they are all incredible, resilient, team players who have worked incredibly hard to support our unique student population, both at a distance and in-person when it became safe.

- Mahasti Shahidi

Those same educators worked tirelessly over the summer to prepare for this school year, planning for both in-person learning opportunities and distance learning. Many even offered the choice between in-person, hybrid or remote instruction to families - which meant educators got to wear EVEN MORE hats, adapting their instructional strategies constantly. 

For the Oakland International Academy team, who serves a high population of English as a Second Language (ESL) students, this meant being prepared to support their kids' unique needs both face-to-face and from a distance, as they have offered both remote and in-person learning options for families up until the most recent school closure order. Heading into 2021, Mahasti is hopeful that state education leaders will not only recognize how hard her team has worked, but also the profound effect remote learning has on ESL students. 

We need equity in education, and the simple fact is that ESL students (and many other students facing learning challenges) require effective face-to-face instruction to learn reading, writing and math to the best of their ability. My wish for 2021 is that our state education officials recognize this challenge, and consider waiving certain assessments like WIDA & M-STEP. 

- Mahasti Shahidi

Though a COVID-19 vaccine is on the horizon, none of us know when we can quite expect a return to "normal" (or something close to it). But no matter how learning looks the rest of this school year, we are confident that our MI charter educators will continue to navigate the waters with grace - taking the challenges in stride, as they have done the past nine months. 

For now, we will simply say THANK YOU to the teachers, school leaders, and school staff who have worked so hard in 2020! 

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