By Mila Koumpilova
Chalkbeat Chicago

This fall, Morgan Park Academy teacher Emily Fitch found herself in a position for which her training had not prepared her: About a dozen students were in her sixth-grade classroom, while another half-dozen were on a computer screen, tuning in via Zoom.

Fitch grappled with pressing questions: How could she best engage with both groups of learners at the same time? How to ensure her “Zoom kids” were heard and recognized in the classroom, making them feel they were fully a part of the learning experience?

Simultaneous instruction, as it’s called, is fast becoming a fixture of the return to school buildings nationally. Some educators at Chicago private and parochial schools that adopted the model this fall say it can work, but with some key supports, including technical upgrades and extra prep time for teachers. These campuses tend to have smaller class sizes and more resources than the city’s public schools. …

At Morgan Park Academy, about 40% of students continued with remote learning when the campus reopened in August, though in the early grades that percentage was significantly lower.

To make simultaneous instruction work, the school also upgraded its wireless network to allow more than 50 teachers to livestream from classrooms, ensured document cameras and smart boards worked in each classroom, and provided training and simulated classes, said Vincent Hermosilla, the assistant head of school.

“It worked surprisingly well,” Hermosilla said. “Teachers came up with ways of really leveraging the technology and making it happen.”