The 2020-21 Cohort
The 2020-21 cohort of Kenan Fellows consists of 18 teachers selected from counties across the state (note: originally 19 but one withdrew). Coronavirus restrictions were enacted mid-March during the time when KFP was actively interviewing applicants, thus the remainder of the interviews transitioned to online with no complications. The members of the new cohort were announced as usual in early May and participated in an online orientation shortly thereafter (the orientation has been occurring online for several years). The first intensive professional development institute was scheduled to take place at the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT) during the week of June 22nd, however, due to the pandemic, those face-to-face sessions could not occur and the KFP quickly pivoted to develop and deliver a series of virtual professional learning sessions during that same timeframe.
The virtual Summer Institute was the first of three professional learning institutes in which the 2020-21 Fellows will have participated. By the end of their fellowship year, they will have completed 80 hours of professional development, including Fall, Spring, and Summer sessions. The Biogen Foundation is the lead sponsor of the Institutes, which are planned and led by a faculty of educators in the Kenan Fellows Alumni Network. The virtual Summer Institute featured sessions on equity, inclusion, and diversity; building leadership capacity; and strategies for engaging students in remote learning. Kenan Fellows mentors and Board of Advisors members, Lee Clark-Sellers of Cornerstone Building Brands and Dawn Braswell of Siemens, led a discussion on making the most of the internship. The virtual Fall Institute took place during the last two weeks of October, with a series of eight two-hour sessions.
Following the virtual Summer Institute, Fellows began their three-week internship experiences. Due to COVID restrictions, some of these were conducted virtually, while others occurred face-to-face. In general, the format was determined by the restrictions in place at each location. In cases where businesses or labs were closed, the mentors worked with Fellows virtually. In situations where they were operating in person, Fellows followed the required safety protocols and visited onsite. The KFP emphasized to Fellows that they were not required to place themselves in any situations that made them feel unsafe. Because it was not possible for staff to visit Fellows during their internships this year, they were encouraged to use virtual office hours to connect with KFP staff and discuss their experiences and project ideas.
Impacts of the 2020-21 Cohort to Date
Even though the 2020-21 school year has had uneven starts across the state and is occurring in various forms, from all online to all onsite and hybrid versions of the two, the Fellows are working to make an impact in and beyond their classrooms. As examples:
- Madison Wagner led school level professional development titled Synchronous Learning: Engaging Students Virtually for 55 educators;
- Erin Strohschein constructed 60 kits for the Orange/Durham Boys and Girls Club that students could take home to learn about NC’s coast;
- Erica Levai stepped into the role as Assistant Principal for her school;
- Leslie Rhinehart designed and implemented two chemistry lessons with her students using digital learning tools that she experienced during the KFP Summer Institute. She also incorporated information about industries working to become sustainable and carbon neutral based on things she learned during her internship.
The STEMwork Blended Learning Program
In early 2018, the KFP began developing a new initiative called STEMwork, which is designed to utilize the leadership capacity of the Kenan Fellows Alumni Network to reach thousands more teachers across the state and guide them in their efforts to bridge STEM in their schools with STEM at work. STEMwork is a blended professional development program, meaning that some of the lessons will be provided on-line and others on-site, led by skilled Kenan Fellow alumni and partners from local businesses and industries. Approximately 80 hours of work are involved and teachers should be able to complete the requirements within one year.
The eight online modules that focus on developing education/industry partnerships and project-based learning pedagogy were completed in December of 2019 and are housed on NC State’s Moodle platform. The online Facilitator Training materials were developed by the STEMwork design team in the Spring of 2020 and 18 alumni have begun training to serve as Facilitators for the pilot, which will be conducted in 2021-22 in two locations (Western NC and the RTP region). The goal for the pilot is to have 18 teams with one Facilitator and five participating teachers in each team (total of 108). The KFP is engaging an external evaluator to provide critical feedback regarding all aspects of program operations and effectiveness. The Biogen Foundation has been an invaluable partner in the development of STEMwork, with support for the design and development of the online modules, Facilitator Guide, and the pilot in the RTP region. Funds from the Appalachian Regional Commission provide support for training the WNC Facilitators; the KFP is still working to secure funding for that region’s pilot.