#EmbraceTheChallenge: Covenant House Academy East


Covenant House Academy East

Meet school Principal, Nate King

Covenant House Academy East is a charter high school in Detroit that’s authorized by Grand Valley State University. Covenant House Academy East serves a highly at-risk population of students ages 15-22, many of whom are homeless or facing similar challenges. The school’s mission is to help students attain their high school diploma while also giving them the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in life. Check out how they've adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure students get meaningful instruction, at a distance.

To succeed at distance learning, you must first succeed at addressing emotional wellbeing

In Detroit, COVID-19 cases have reached over 10,600, with deaths rising to over 1,300 (as of May 23, 2020) - it is easily the hardest hit place in Michigan amidst this pandemic. For the educators working to support students and families in the city, the transition to distance learning has meant facing the ongoing challenges of technology access, poverty, transiency, etc. - compounded with the new challenges of emotional distress, student anxiety, family illness and virtual instruction.

The Covenant House Academy schools have Detroit branches in Mexicantown, Midtown and the lower East Side. 96% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, a third have experienced homelessness, and more than a tenth have been in foster care - those at-risk factors are even more amplified by the fact that most students know at least one of their person who has fallen ill or lost their life to the Coronavirus. So how do educators address these critical moving pieces without the ability to physically check in on students? For Covenant Academy East Principal, Nate King, it starts with assessing students' needs - emotional, social, life-sustaining, and eventually academic. 

When this all started, we knew immediately we had to conduct a needs assessment. We called, texted, emailed and tracked down all our kids, first to ask 'How are you? How is your family?' Then it was a matter of identifying who needs the basics - food, water, internet access, technology, etc. We had staff members volunteering weekly in partnership with Gleaners to pass out food to students and the community - we even had some of our staff dropping off refrigerators and microwaves to our families.

- Nate King, Covenant House Academy East Principal

As the weeks unfolded, Nate and his team rolled out distance learning, acknowledging that some students were able to move right along, while others needed more significant educator intervention. In a regular year, Covenant educators face the constant battle between work and school, as many students are either responsible entirely for their own finances or are a financial stakeholder in their family. For Nate, this usually means working with local employers to get working students hours better suited to the school day, or even working with parents to help them get a higher-paying job, so that their child doesn't have to financially pitch in. Under these new circumstances, where students have essentially unlimited available working hours, many Covenant educators have adapted their office hours to night time, ensuring they are available to help working students when they can fit in classwork. 

Unfortunately, the emotional distress remains for many students - and many Detroit residents - as the case and death toll rise, leaving many with high anxiety about their personal future and the future of their families. For Nate's team, this anxiety wears heavy on schoolwork, and they have continued to implement emotional wellness checks week after week to help students cope.

Right now it does not look or feel like school at all. Yes, my teachers and staff have been reaching out to me and keeping in touch to make sure I am ok. Yes, I have talked to some of my classmates. I do have a tablet to complete school work, but my mindset has not been on school lately.
- Kalyn B., Covenant House Academy East student

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For other students and families, the hard work of Nate's team has made distance learning possible and successful. 

They provided my son with internet access and online learning tools during this time of crisis. They have reached out to me and my son and have made us feel like they are here for us during this tough time.
- Sara M., Covenant House Academy East parent

Though the situation feels grim, as educators and students continue to weather the pandemic, there have been many lessons learned through this process, and Nate is confident those lessons will have meaningful impact next year and beyond. Most importantly, it has been a key insight into which skills students may still be lacking as they graduate and pursue college or work. 

Every one of our students gets a school email address when they register at Covenant. The first thing we did when the pandemic broke was attempt to contact them all via email - which we quickly learned was not the way to go. These kids live on social media, texting, etc. - but when it comes to more professional modes of communication, we found that they still had room to grow, especially those students who had just came to our school this year. Our goal, in serving a highly at-risk population, is that when they graduate, they will have the basic skills necessary to achieve in their next step, whatever it might be. I think we had some assumptions that through regular classwork, they were gaining proficiency with the Microsoft Suite, Google Suite, email, etc., but that's not what we've found. Moving forward, that will be part of the curriculum - it's simply necessary for today's workforce.

- Nate King, Covenant House Academy East Principal 


More #EmbraceTheChallenge Stories

Check out our other featured MI charter schools who have creatively #embracedthechallenge to support students & families!

Waterford Montessori Academy
New Branches Charter Academy
Bridge Academy West
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