5 tips for reopening after COVID-19 school closures from a Liberian school that made it through Ebola

Jeff Trudeau is in the unique position of being one of only a few educators able to take some highly educated guesses about what it will be like to reopen schools after coronavirus ceases to be a threat.

As head of school of the American International School of Monrovia (AISM), he’s been through a school-closing health crisis before. In 2014, the Ebola outbreak in Africa shut his school down for six months—and just as students were preparing to return from summer vacation.

Resuming school after Ebola was far from easy. The student body plummeted to 38 kids, down from 150, partly due to some families being wary of resuming normal life. Staff numbers dwindled, too. Not surprisingly, assessment scores for children unable to keep up with online learning during the closure took a big hit.

Looking to assessment for guidance

Jeff brought MAP® Growth™ to AISM in 2012. He had relied on it during his tenure at other international schools and knew it could serve students in Monrovia well. The school can’t afford to offer special education or gifted support, and he knew data from the assessment would make it easier for teachers to differentiate instruction for all their kids. When faced with the reality of almost an entire school year lost after Ebola school closures, he was once again certain that MAP Growth would help AISM.

Within three days of students returning, we set up MAP Growth testing and we crunched the data right away.”

The Ebola crisis finally passed, allowing students to return to class in February 2015. Their teachers didn’t waste any time trying to understand where they were academically. “Within three days of students returning, we set up MAP Growth testing and we crunched the data right away,” Jeff says.

The data educators had, plus the newly reduced student body, allowed for a creative approach for tackling instruction: scrapping traditional age-based grades and building clusters of students based on their prior learning achievement. Assessment data helped teachers define three levels of learning groups—below, at, and above norms—and they looked to that same data when placing students. The data also proved that the unconventional approach worked. So much so that the school still uses it, despite enrollment being back up.

Some things to try

Jeff suspects the transition back to school after COVID-19 closures will be slow and uneven across the globe. Some families, worried about safety, their livelihood, or moving on after the loss of a loved one, might not feel ready to send their children back to school right away. Even for luckier families, it will probably take time to get back into the rhythm of school life.

[T]he transition back to school after COVID-19 closures will be slow and uneven across the globe.”

Jeff has the following plans for AISM, when it’s able to reopen, and shares them in the hopes that they can help schools across the globe.

  1. Take things slowly. Consider having half-days for a couple weeks, if you can, and begin with core subjects only. Foreign languages, arts, and even PE can resume later.
  2. Test early. The sooner you’re able to administer an assessment, the sooner you’ll have data that can show you where you’re starting from and how best to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
  3. Encourage students’ enthusiasm. Kids may suffer a loss in confidence if their assessment scores are lower than they expect. Assure them that that’s perfectly normal, given the circumstances, and find ways to rekindle their love of learning.
  4. Try grouping. Assessment data can help create groups within grade-level classes. That can make it easier to differentiate instruction.
  5. Support teachers with assistants. Teaching assistants can help your teachers reach all students and ensure no one is falling by the wayside.

Learn more

To hear more about AISM’s experience during Ebola school closures and their plans for reopening after coronavirus, read our case study and join us for our August 12 webinar, After a crisis: Bouncing back with MAP Growth. Jeff will be joined by Jenny McGown, superintendent of Klein Independent School District in Texas, who will share how her district turned to MAP Growth when reopening after Hurricane Harvey. Can’t make it August 12? Register anyway to receive a recording of the webinar after.

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