As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, juggling work schedules, child care, and virtual learning becomes a new reality for families, and teachers and administrators are working overtime to support distance-learning. But in Southwest Atlanta, an inspiring success story is emerging.
Ethos Classical Charter School scholars are thriving in their new virtual environment.
Born from a clear need to support neighborhood educational options, Ethos Classical Charter School was founded in 2019 in the Sylvan Hills area of Atlanta. There, families were seeking alternatives to their local public schools where only three out of 10 third-graders are reading on-level. Ethos opened its doors in August 2019 with 125 kindergarten and third-grade scholars, just seven short months before COVID-19 struck.
Founder and Head of School Emily Castillo Leon credits Ethos’ virtual success to the same in-person model that existed pre-pandemic: a strong emphasis on literacy, with tight communication and efficiency between school leadership and teachers and families.
Each day, Ethos takes attendance at three separate times to ensure student participation.
There is a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning modules to allow for varied supervision and schedules. Scholars engage in whole group instruction during Morning Meeting, Lunch Bunch, Brain Breaks, and Enrichment; all core content (guided reading, math, and phonics) is taught in small groups with no more than 7-8 scholars per group. With two teachers dedicated to each literacy block, Ethos has created a virtual curriculum that allows for tailored, individualized instruction.
2020 has been a big learning curve for many families and students, and Ethos has had to stretch and grow in order to continue to provide academic excellence. The Ethos team strives to keep operations smooth to support their virtual success.
“Just when we were celebrating getting our carpool line down to 11 minutes at dropoff and pickup, we found ourselves preparing for the much bigger operational challenge of virtual learning,” said Castillo Leon.
“We’re working incredibly hard in the background to make sure our structure and educational outcomes remain the same for families and scholars by maintaining consistency and predictability. My goal is for them to not feel a difference between virtual and in-person learning.” Ethos parents’ commitment to partnering with teachers and administration to support their scholars has resulted in 94% daily attendance rates for Ethos scholars.
The Ethos team and families are not new to solving problems and dealing with challenges. Castillo Leon notes that the school was founded in scrappy circumstances and educators are familiar with quickly adjusting to change. Families too have adopted this mentality. They commit to Ethos knowing that their involvement is imperative for their children, even if their resources are limited. Currently, 78% of the students enrolled qualify for free or reduced lunch. Castillo Leon is incredibly humbled by the way parents have been juggling work and childcare in order to support their scholars’ education – a commitment made even more critical in an at-home learning environment.
April Murray, Mom to Ethos scholar Asa Murray, has this to say about their virtual learning experience: “when the pandemic hit, Ethos sprang into action without missing a beat. They showed so much compassion, understanding, support, and sheer determination for all of their families to finish the school year strong. Fast forward to this year, they provided my new 1st grader with everything! A Chromebook, school supplies, and everything needed to get him going on the learning websites. My first grader is so independent now, working on his own and I hear him laughing and dancing with his teacher and classmates. The entire Ethos staff (now my Villagers) didn’t allow one crack in the foundation.”
About Ethos Classical Charter School:
Ethos Classical Charter School is a tuition free elementary school located in the Sylvan Hills neighborhood of Atlanta, GA. Ethos Classical serves families of both Atlanta Public Schools and Fulton County Schools. Founded by Head of School, Emily Castillo Leon, Ethos Classical opened our doors for the first day of school on Monday, August 12th, 2019. Ethos Classical is currently enrolling Kindergarten, 1st grade and 4th grade scholars for Fall 2020.
About Emily Castillo León:
Emily Castillo León has a proven track record of transformative academic outcomes for students in district and charter schools. As the Founding Assistant Principal of KIPP Nashville Collegiate High School, Mrs. Castillo León led the humanities team to the highest scores in KIPP network history on the NWEA MAP Reading Assessment as well as students demonstrating growth in the 99th percentile on the Tennessee English I End of Course Exam. Prior to Founding Ethos Classical, Mrs. Castillo León was a Fellow with the highly selective Building Excellent Schools Fellowship. Mrs. Castillo León received a B.A. in English and Communications from Wake Forest University.
Jason has worked in education for over 15 years as a teacher, blogger and community advocate. He speaks and writes primarily about the need to improve education for Black boys, particularly increasing the number of Black male educators in schools. In addition to blogging here at EdLanta, Jason is also a featured writer at Education Post.