Arizona Charter Academy Launches Bulldog Empowerment Class to Address the Social and Emotional Needs of Fifth through Eighth Grade Students Who are Learning Online
The 30-Minute Bulldog Empowerment Class, which is Built Into Each Student’s Schedule, Allows the Teachers to Get to Know their Students and Vice Versa
SURPRISE, Arizona—This spring, when the COVID-19 global pandemic caused schools to close and start offering online distance learning, the teachers and staff at Arizona Charter Academy (ACA) quickly realized they were spending each minute of their online time on academics.
As Diana Ferati, a middle school English teacher at ACA noted, students would wake up, log in and spend about 7 to 8 hours a day alone on a computer.
While academics are definitely extremely important to Ferati and the rest of the staff at ACA, they also realize that students need a more well-rounded day in order to be happy and successful.
“Anyone who knows ACA knows that we don't spend 7 to 8 hours on just academics. There’s time for laughter, for games, making friends, telling stories, and other things built into our day-to-day lives. This typically happens before the first bell, in between classes, at lunch, at recess, and even during some classes,” Ferati said.
In order to give the students a break from the constant classes and to address their social and emotional needs, ACA created a new class at the beginning of the school year called Bulldog Empowerment—named after the school’s mascot—for the fifth through eighth grade students.
Bulldog Empowerment is a 30-minute block built into each student’s schedule; it allows teachers and students some non-academic time every day for all their social-emotional needs that would otherwise be met in a pre-pandemic school day, Ferati said.
“There are four Empowerment groups in each grade level. Each teacher is responsible for meeting the social-emotional needs of their particular group,” Ferati said.
During the 30-minute class, both the online and in-person students take part in a number of enjoyable activities, Ferati said.
“We watch inspirational videos and have some powerful discussion of how we can apply them to our own lives. We play fun online games like Kahoot, Heads Up, and Draw This. We also have been playing some in-person games like the Name Game, Would You Rather, and Telephone,” she said adding that in September, the students even put on a virtual Talent Show as part of Bulldog Empowerment.
When ACA returned to a hybrid model after fall break, with half of the learning being done online and half in person, Ferati said the staff felt it was important to continue with the Bulldog Empowerment class to help the students continue to do well during this unusual school year.
“We meet with half our Empowerment kids in-person, and we have the other half of the kids from home log into a Teams meeting at the same time. We project the at-home kids on the board and have one big happy group every day,” Ferati said.
In addition to providing a way for students to socialize and have some fun during these unusual school days, Ferati said Bulldog Empowerment has been an outstanding opportunity for her to get to know her students on a personal level, and vice versa.
“These almost act as advisory groups, so when a student in my group is struggling in all of their classes because of something personal going on at home, I would be that student's advocate in communicating their needs to their teachers,” she said.
Ferati said the Bulldog Empowerment class has been going extremely well, with students and parents alike praising the class.
“At the end of every week, we have our students take a survey in their Empowerment groups in order to share their feedback. We have received nothing but enthusiastically positive feedback from students who claim that thanks to this group, they have been able to continue to make friends and get to know their teachers on a "real" level, rather than just academic,” she said.
“I look forward to my Bulldog Empowerment every single day. I am a teacher that finds incredible value in developing my relationships with my students as I've found that this makes a huge impact on their academic performance.”