Katie St. Laurent is the Library Media Specialist at Solvay High School and has supported the InquiryU program every year. “Our collaboration is one of those rare situations that benefits everyone,” she says. “Solvay students get additional adult support and enrichment opportunities, Solvay teachers get to participate in thinking deeply about teaching practice, and Syracuse students have an authentic but mediated first experience teaching kids and collaborating with professional teachers. The program is greater than the sum of its parts; year after year we learn new things.”
The summer 2020 version of InquiryU, led on the university side by SOE alums Heather Waymouth (M.S., literacy education ‘08, Ph.D., literacy education ‘21) and Molly Lahr (B.A., English education ‘14, M.S., literacy education ‘15), was dubbed the “Digital Leadership Academy,” not just because of the digital format, but because the inquiry topic was built on the spring 2020 emergency closures. Student projects addressed better practices for sharing information, allocating resources, and designing digital instruction in K-12 schools, all with the intention of helping Solvay leaders devise a plan for the next school year that would be responsive to student perspectives from the spring of 2020.
“The kids embraced the online space and format,” Chandler-Olcott says. “They were quick to learn digital tools, adapt, and be active in their learning.”
Another silver lining to the digital and remote programming was that students were able to present their final projects to a wider audience using web presentation tools. In addition to their classmates and families, Solvay administrators could see student groups’ findings and recommendations for improving online learning.
The Literacy program was led by Kathleen A. Hinchman, professor of reading and language arts, and Keith O. Newvine (B.A., English education, ‘02, M.S., literacy education, ‘07), a current Ph.D. candidate in literacy education. The program occurred simultaneously and was planned collaboratively with InquiryU, although combined activities were reduced due to remote-learning challenges. Sixteen fifth and sixth graders received one-to-one tutoring from students in their culminating experience for the Literacy Education master’s program. Attendees also participated in program-wide community-building activities and project showcases.
According to Hinchman, “Solvay families and school staff, including teachers, school media specialists, guidance counselors, all levels of administrators, and the technology coordinator, were helpful beyond measure with student enrollment, resource allocations, and support. It was pure pleasure to design literacy instruction in such a supportive community.”
Hinchman also noted that student attendance was more consistent than in previous in-person years, likely because there were no transportation issues or vacation conflicts.
With the education system in flux it’s difficult to plan, but Chandler-Olcott says that no matter what, the Digital Leadership Academy theme will continue again this summer. She also stresses that Solvay is going above and beyond in this pandemic time. “We are grateful that Solvay continues to partner with us, despite all the challenges of the pandemic,” she says. “That the district continues to pursue instructional improvement while investing in student enrichment is really impressive.”