Stronger Consulting supports the South Bend Empowerment Zone’s training efforts at the onset of the pandemic.

In March 2020, schools everywhere had to pivot to online teaching and learning with extremely short notice due to a mysterious pandemic making a swift and deadly journey around the globe. Many parents soon found themselves sheltering in place with their children. Families had no choice but to try to adjust to remote learning and work — if they were lucky enough to have — and keep their jobs.

South Bend Empowerment Zone (SBEZ), a consortium of four elementary and one middle school in Indiana, was certainly no different. Except it was. 

The Empowerment Zone is made up of turnaround schools — all historically low-performing and failing to meet state and federal expectations for “success.” The journey to radically transform these schools had just begun in July of 2019. 

Under an agreement with the Indiana State Board of Education and the South Bend Community School Corporation,  Navarre Middle school and its four feeder elementary schools: Wilson, Warren, Harrison, and Coquillard faced the Herculean challenge to “dramatically transform student achievement and growth at our schools over the course of a five-year intervention.”

Primary public school education is challenging enough — especially in the SBEZ where access to quality school options has been low for many years. Now add the pandemic and many teachers who had never taught online before — suddenly charged with attempting to teach children with limited computer literacy and access and you have, well, the perfect storm.

SBEZ’s leader Cheryl Camacho connected with Stronger’s CEO Mike Montoya via a LinkedIn Post from a mutual colleague. 

Enter Stronger Consulting in June 2020.

Under the guidance of CEO and founder Mike Montoya, and his Partner Angie Peluse, Stronger Consulting set a strategic plan to transition all SBEZ’s classes online — and ensure all students, teachers, and families were enabled for a successful 2020-21 school year. Obviously, success is subjective. How do you define success during the worst global crisis since World War II? How do we define success for student outcomes – especially of those young learners who are disadvantaged and historically score lower on the standardized tests that can make or break a school and its federal funding. 

During the 8-week project, a learning management system had to be implemented all school teachers and staff had to be trained on the new platform, and more importantly, best practices for online learning were shared with more than 100 stakeholders to help ensure everyone was ready for the new normal. 

The new registration and logging onto the online learning process for families was an SBEZ pain point, but Stronger Consulting provided bilingual tech support to facilitate a smoother experience for all.

SBEZ CEO Cheryl Camacho said in an interview that online learning was “an occasional crutch for Zone schools before coronavirus,” and like many other schools they were totally unprepared to facilitate online learning 100 percent when the pandemic occurred.  Fortunately, Stronger Consulting was able to provide the support needed to ease faculty and students into learning from home using the Canvas learning management system and Zoom.

As a result of this engagement, every school within the South Bend Empowerment Zone was online and ready for school on the first day.  Families and teachers reported that incredible satisfaction with the quality of support that they received as they made the transition to online learning, and Teachers specifically called out their enthusiasm for the professional development and training that they received, sharing that it was “the best PD I have ever experienced!”

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