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EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTION MAINTAINS DURING PANDEMIC

1/6/2021, noon
Two friends, LaShaun Jackson and Omar Moore, envisioned opening an educational institution while in college at Southern Illinois University. Jackson, ...
Innovations High School was founded as a program of Creating Inspirational Realities Collectively Lifting Everyone (CIRCLE) Foundation to create innovative educational experiences and inspirational leadership development. Photo courtesy of Circle Foundation
 Educational institution maintains during pandemic

BY TIA CAROL JONES

     Two friends, LaShaun Jackson and Omar Moore, envisioned opening an educational institution while in college at Southern Illinois University. Jackson, along with Moore, founded Creating Inspirational Realities Collectively Lifting Everyone (CIRCLE) Foundation and Innovations High School, located at 17 N. State St. Now, during the pandemic, the high school has been able to maintain student attendance and grades.
     CIRCLE Foundation was founded in 2009 with the goal to inspire, motivate and empower their students so they will be encouraged to reach their highest potential. Innovations High School was founded as a program of the CIRCLE Foundation to create innovative educational experiences and inspirational leadership development.
     Jackson said because the students who attend Innovations have previously had challenges around other things before coming to the high school, it was a concern of theirs. He said they were very intentional in training the staff and hosted training during the summer in regards to engagement.
     “We’ve used those techniques to help with engagement,” Jackson said. He added teachers use a “culturally relevant curriculum,” to teach, which basically deals with topics the students are dealing with in their everyday lives. That keeps the students engaged, he said.
     Jackson said the staff at Innovations also prides themselves on relationship building with the students. He said while there has been limited physical face-to-face interaction with newer students, the staff has still been able to do virtual one-on-ones with them.
     “We do a lot of one-on-ones and reaching out directly to the students to make sure they know who we are, that we care for them. It’s a lot of real-time correspondence with the students to make it very personal,” he said.
     There are currently 365 students, with 10-12th grade students. And the average age of the students is between 17-19. In June, 170 students graduated. They had to do heavy recruitment for this school year because of the size of the graduating class.
     Jackson said there was no change to the curriculum due to having to go to remote learning because of COVID-19, adding it wasn’t a sudden change for the teaching staff. He said there was a lot of professional and staff development centered around how to engage the students throughout the pandemic.
     “We had computers ready. We had our teachers already set up on a platform where they could engage the students, and we also talked to our students about going to that platform, prior to us having to disengage with the physical contact at the school. So, we were prepared in regards to having the right tools,” he said.
     Jackson said psychologically, no one was prepared for how school closures brought on by the pandemic would affect the students or the staff. He said students and staff members were really struggling with distance learning. “So, we also established free counseling services for our staff and students,” he added. “That turned out to be very successful and impactful for both staff and students,” he continued.
     Moore said to make sure the students still had social connections, they had a virtual homecoming and virtual assemblies. He said they also had to make sure students had connectivity in their homes in order to participate in distance learning.
    Jackson said the things he found the students needed the most was being technologically savvy enough to engage on the platform, being able to deal with a teacher virtually, having to check on homework assignments online and letting students know the staff was there for the students.
     “I think a lot of people, they can underestimate, the impact socialization has on education,” and particularly with high school-aged students, Jackson said, when psychologically, socialization is a big part of their learning development, he added. “So, we made a lot of different adjustments to help them with that,” Jackson stated. He said they also have student clubs and kept those things going in a virtual environment.