When Brick Township Public Schools sent a survey to parents in June 2020 as part of its Restart Plan, it was eager to get feedback as it sought to devise a plan to provide high-quality instruction that could respond to changing circumstances amid COVID-19.

When the more than 3,800 responding parents were asked to identify challenges posed by virtual learning, several needs emerged, including having a computer for every student, making internet access available and providing support through synchronous instruction. Parents also cited the need for a structured routine and schedule, a streamlined digital platform and consistent instructional tools.

After analyzing the results, the district sought to bridge the gap between face-to-face learning and virtual instruction by engaging learners with blended instruction and relevant and rigorous tasks.

The Brick curriculum and instruction department bought Chromebooks to offer a synchronous instructional model through a single streamlined platform. The district even purchased 250 “hot spots” to serve families in need of high-speed internet access.

The district also established a Leaders in Virtual Education team to help design a blended learning model based on seven principles:

  • Establish and develop strong relationships.
  • Focus on the social-emotional needs of students with an emphasis on wellness.
  • Streamline and prioritize content that is rigorous, relevant and engaging.
  • Use technology to enhance learning experiences by communicating, collaborating and creating.
  • Develop consistent, predictable routines for learner, parent and teacher.
  • Communicate with families in a clear, concise and transparent manner.
  • Dedicate collaborative planning time for staff.

The Restart Plan focused on what became known as the four Rs: relationships, routines, roles and rigorous tasks. The model itself became known as “Brick-n-Click” — with students attending school in-person being the “bricks” and the virtual learners being the “clicks.”

Working with a consultant and the Leaders in Virtual Education team it had assembled, Brick trained about 300 teachers, introducing them to the four Rs. Supervisors demonstrated the Brick-n-Click model to in-person and virtual participants, and when school started, students received synchronous instruction whether they were in Brick or Click.

Transitioning back into the normal school year has not been without challenges, but Brick school administrators said in an email, “We feel the focus of our 2020-2021 Restart Plan on the social, emotional, and academic well-being of our students, while keeping health and safety as our main focus for students and staff, has truly provided our community with a resilience to meet these challenges.”

Moving into the 2021-2022 school year, the curriculum and instruction department used a “Whole Child Approach” to enhance academic learning by embedding social-emotional learning and culturally responsive pedagogy. The 2021 Summer SPARK Academy provided students with a variety of activities and an intervention program. The free programs provided equity and access for all students, and transportation was provided.

Well-Deserved Recognition Brick Township Public Schools earned a 2021 School Leader Award for its Brick & Click instructional model, Summer SPARK programs, and Extended School Year, which was a program the school system instituted to help mitigate some of the effects of learning loss in the special education community as a result of COVID-19. Kristen Hanson, director of special services, noted many were involved in creating the Extended School Year and Enrichment Program for 415 students.

Dr. Alyce Anderson, director of curriculum and instruction, said she was thrilled to accept the award on behalf of the district — “and more specifically my team of supervisors and instructional coaches.” She added, “They are innovative leaders who are committed to serving and supporting teachers, administrators, and learners in our community.”

Susan McNamara, director of planning, research and evaluation, added, “This is a true honor for the entire BTPS Safe Restart Team with whom I had the privilege and honor to design and implement this plan in the best service to our students, parents, staff and community. As an educational leader and a member of the BTPS learning community for over 30 years, I am humbled and honored to receive such a prestigious award on behalf of the school district.”

Thomas Parmalee is NJSBA’s managing editor.