The Syracuse City School District Emphasizes an Increased Focus on Personalized Learning for Its Students

With a new "station rotation" model, the Syracuse City School District hopes to make learning personal during the pandemic.

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Excited about using values of empathy and justice to reimagine more equitable classrooms. Big fan of Carole King's Tapestry album, hikes and politics podcasts.

(Image Source: The Daily Orange)

The Syracuse City School District (SCSD) will be implementing a “station rotation” model of learning into daily classes, as announced in a letter sent to families in early November. This new model is meant to offer more consistency and personalized learning time for both hybrid and virtual learners.

Manami Tezuka, the school district’s Director of Professional Development, elaborated more about this adjustment in an interview. “We want to make sure there is equity and access to teachers and content,” Tezuka said. She believes this can be achieved in part by “planning intentionally for the learning experience to be in stations.” This experience using stations has variety in mind with elements being live and virtual, in-person, and asynchronous.

A personalized learning focus is not new, though, and has been an initiative of the district for the last couple of years. The Director explained that “it’s just a translation in practice from in-person to a virtual station rotation model.” Before March, this model existed heavily in elementary and middle school classrooms. Tezuka and her team are now leading a district-wide effort to incorporate it back into every students’ day.

This incorporation won’t make drastic changes in students’ actual schedules, however. Students will still have their class periods, but how those periods look will have greater variety, with not all classes consisting of 50-minute live lessons.

This style differs from the learning plan used in the first marking period, or academic quarter. Hybrid students, such as myself, have been engaging in multiple hours of synchronous instruction on Mondays and Tuesdays. Virtual students like Yasmine Kanaan, on the other hand, have been engaging in several synchronous classes on weekdays except for Wednesday, with additional physical education classes on some days. Yasmine, a high school junior in the Syracuse City School District, told me that she wakes up around 8:00 am for her first class and works until 6:00 pm with the previous learning plan, spending some of that time helping her younger brothers who are also virtual learners.

Regardless of whether a family has chosen a hybrid or virtual learning plan, the district has been working closely with families over the past months. These interactions have primarily been facilitated through Co-Video Chats — a regular-occurring live chat that the district hosts to virtually interact with families. Director Tezuka emphasized that these students and families are the primary stakeholders in our schools. The stakeholders opting for a virtual model, the Director shared, “were the ones who were telling us that they felt like their student wasn’t getting any attention and wasn’t getting any instruction…We knew we needed a plan to address that.”

Part of the difficulty with the prior plan, Tezuka mentioned, was the burden placed on teachers. When the school district adopted a hybrid model in October, teachers were tasked with balancing both virtual and in-person classes, which looked very different. The same challenge was true at a district-wide level as her team was developing this new plan since there are really two plans to be developed: the virtual plan and the hybrid plan.

This was particularly a challenge for educators and the district as a whole considering that the SCSD was the only Big 5 School District — a name given to the five largest school districts in New York State — to adopt a hybrid learning model. The district wasn’t able to work with other major school districts in the state to compare models. Most school districts that use hybrid models are smaller, suburban schools, Tezuka noted. The SCSD is an urban district serving approximately 20,000 students.

Director Tezuka added that the school district is working to leverage the many digital tools that they do have in the new model to support all students and educators.