Norwich Free Academy Launches ‘Learning Labs' to Address Pandemic Learning Impact

The school has 27 learning labs supporting 290 students.

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Students at Norwich Free Academy say they are happy to be back in-person full-time this school year, but the effects from last school year are hard to miss.

"Talking to my friends, it's different socially, educationally. Everything is different," said Paul Ericson, a junior at Norwich Free Academy.

Ericson was a freshman when the pandemic first started. He has not experienced a full year of in-person high school yet.

"We are trying to relearn how to learn, in a sense," said Ericson.

Head of school for the academy, Dr. Brian Kelly, said addressing the pandemic's impact on learning was a top priority for his team.

"That was the number one priority for us. We know that kids have not had traditional in-person learning for the last 18 months. We also know there are going to be inevitable holes in their learning," said Kelly.

According to NFA, approximately 31% of the student population demonstrated lower achievement in at least one course in last year's model.

"We really want to focus on learning acceleration this year," said Kelly.

With that goal of learning acceleration, NFA launched learning labs. The labs focus on math and English and are designed to help students who were doing well before the pandemic, but then began to struggle.

"We have a variety of reasons why kids struggled. It could be something happening at home, maybe there was a sick parent. Maybe they are struggling with socio-emotional needs and not seeing their friends," said Kelly. "Regardless of the reasons they have missed concept and skills and that is what we need to address through this program."

NFA hired a scientific research-based interventions coordinator to oversee the learning labs and help in other areas.

"It is a direct response to Covid to make sure that we are moving students forward along their trajectory and keeping and maintaining that success," said Lauren Ball, the school's new SRBI coordinator. "We need systems in place to support all of our students."

The learning labs are a part of a larger process happening on campus to address the achievement gap. Dr. Kelly said the achievement gap existed before the pandemic and only widened because of it.

"This is a several school year fix," said Kelly. "We should be on a continuous improvement journey and really looking at data and identifying the areas where we need to improve. That is something that we are going to be dedicated to over the next three to five years."

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