CharterFolk Contributor Nate Durant – The Next Normal: Rethinking Summer Learning Through an Equitable Lens

Good morning CharterFolk.

Today I am pleased to be able to share with you a Contributor Column from Nate Durant, the Co-Head of School at Freire Charter School in Wilmington, Delaware.

I provide a bio for Nate below.

Walter “Nate” Durant is currently the Co-Head of School at Freire Charter School in Wilmington. He has been with Freire since 2017 where he started as the Director of Student Activities; in that role, he designed, developed, and led the after-school program, which now consists of over 50 different clubs’ activities and sports. Prior to working at Freire, he has worked as an interventionist, classroom teacher, and chess coach at various city schools. As a chess coach, he often witnessed the impact of income, and social inequalities first hand, as he traveled around the country with his students to Regional and National Tournaments. Furthermore, he has helped his students achieve great success, winning multiple Mid-Atlantic Chess Championships and State Chess Championships in both Delaware and Pennsylvania. In 2014, his students were the first from Delaware to win a National Chess Championship. And in 2016, they won their second National Championship in three years. The oldest of five, he grew up in a single parent, single income, two-bedroom row home in North Philadelphia, where he faced many of the same obstacles that economically disadvantaged youth encounter today. With the help of dedicated teachers, and community members, Nate found his path. Earning a B.A. in Communication from Kutztown University in Pennsylvania and an M.Ed. in School Leadership from Wilmington University. Today he continues to follow his passion for equity by empowering young people to realize and maximize their full potential.

I will add that I have greatly enjoyed getting to know Nate in the context of engaging on this piece for CharterFolk. For all of you who have a few minutes to watch Nate’s inspiring Tedx Talk about the power of chess to transform the lives of young people, I encourage you to check it out here. It will give you occasion to learn more about yet another amazing leader working in our nation’s charter schools.

With that, let’s get straight to Nate’s post.

The Next Normal: Rethinking Summer Learning Through an Equitable Lens

In my nearly 15-year career in education, much has been made about the achievement gap, learning loss, and inequitable funding systems.

These conversations are all packaged and communicated in one direction, from the people in “power” to those seemingly “powerless.” Those in “power” almost always tell the “powerless” what they need to do differently to achieve success.

This top-down model has not worked and has resulted in a disconnect between those in “power” and the “powerless.” In the top-down model, the “powerless” are our students and those in “power” are the ones who shape their educational experience.  The reverse is true.  Our students possess vast power to drive their education when given the freedom and support to do so.

Furthermore, when we approach challenges from a deficit mindset and focus on what is lost rather than what could be gained, the disconnect only deepens. This can indeed be seen as we approach our second COVID pandemic summer.

In many cases, during the summer months, learning becomes an afterthought. Many programs have relegated learning to be a by-product of participation in an attempt to “trick” kids into learning. We tell ourselves that these tricks will somehow transform seemingly uninterested students into scholars.

Real recognize real, and the only people we’re fooling are ourselves. Summer school is seen as punitive, and summer enrichment programs are often used as glorified childcare services.

The time is now to re-imagine summer learning, shift the tides of power, and focus on what our education system can gain.

Together, we stand with a historic opportunity to transform education and re-ground our priorities in equity, standards-based learning, and student-centered opportunities. We can no longer rely upon the antiquated systems and approach to learning, as they have historically failed our kids and us; the call to action is immediate, the time is now.

We must take a hard look at our summer schools and programs, their purpose and design them in a way that puts student learning unapologetically front and center. At Freire Charter School Wilmington, we are pushing ourselves to create summer opportunities and give the power back to students by focusing on the F.A.C.T.S.:

  • Focused – Our programs are targeted on specific skills or standards.
  • Available – Our programs are not confined to brick and mortar buildings between the hours of 8-3. Instead, they are available at a variety of times throughout the day in various formats (virtual and in-person), thus reaching kids who would not have been able to participate for a variety of different reasons.
  • Choice – Our students choose what skills they build based on their individual needs and interests
  • Transformative – After programming, students will be different. Students would have mastered content quickly, and with mastery comes confidence and improved self-efficacy. That student is now certified to teach that skill to others!
  • Short – Each session lasts only one week. By having short, focused programming with an intense targeted approach, each skill should take no more than 10 hours to master. At two hours per day, kids will be able to master new skills within a week.

It takes a village, and that village has to include all stakeholders. While we recognize that educators are superheroes, we also know that the Avengers are stronger than any hero alone.

Schools and programs have historically operated on their own islands, and I believe it is time to break that mold and move into a space where we collaboratively serve our students.

This summer at Freire Wilmington, we have forged partnerships with various community and educational organizations to help us provide the variety of robust programming that our students deserve, each providing a targeted skill builder program throughout the summer.

These partners include The Delaware Contemporary art museum, Leading Youth Through Empowerment, Strive, First Futures Gaming, The Chess Guru for Kids, the 21st Century Community Learning Center program (a federal grant program operated by Delaware Department of Education), and many others.

In conjunction with our team of dedicated teachers and coaches, we will all ensure students have the opportunity to build and master a variety of skills that both challenge and empower them to maximize their potential. I believe the future is built by those who are empowered to build it.  Please join me in empowering our students to build a better future for all of us.