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During this extraordinary time when New York City’s educators are working closely with students and families from the confines of their homes, we are publishing a series of posts describing their experiences in their own words. We are now #DOEconnected!

Follow our hashtag, #DOEconnected, join the conversation, and connect online with your neighbors across the City. Share stories of how you, your child, a teacher, or a school community member has become your hero. Remember, not all heroes wear capes.

Jodie Cohen, Principal at James Madison High School

Amid the challenges of the current health crisis, Principal Jodie Cohen and the James Madison High School (JMHS) community have been working harder than ever to identify and implement tools that work best for their community. As part of the process, they actively engaged the community, family, and staff members to facilitate an open dialogue where feedback was encouraged and implemented.

In the initial phase of the transition to remote learning, Principal Cohen’s focus was on “getting things done”, and making sure the entire school community—216 teachers and almost 4,000 students— were on the same page. Once students and teachers settled into their own unique versions of the new normal, classrooms evolved with “some classrooms utilizing more learning tools than others.”

The strength of the JMHS community was shown through their inclusive approach to building a sense of normalcy. Under the direction of Principal Cohen, the JMHS guidance staff hosted a COVID-19 Support group that met every Wednesday, “ where students (voiced) their concerns, (spoke) about what they are experiencing now, and (took) comfort in their shared experiences.”

At JMHS, no student was left behind. In conjunction with the guidance department, the JMHS community mobilized multilingual school aides and other multilingual staff members in an ambitious outreach effort. “We reached more students than…ever…before. Newly arrived English Language Learners, who had been drowning in a sea of indecipherable instructions, were reached in their home languages and given access to the academic program in one form or another” Principal Cohen noted.

Throughout the entire transition period, the dedication and flexibility of faculty members were the glue holding the community together. Every Friday, JMHS teachers were committed to dedicating the focus of the entire day to their students, making space for their academic and personal experiences. “Through this program, our teachers (came) to know every student well, enabling them to include students’ emerging needs into their plans and expectations.” Under their teachers’ care and attention, students responded positively in all their interactions and demonstrated their perseverance and ingenuity.

Principal Cohen at her computer

“We hosted after-school clubs, student government, and senior activities where students (could) connect with each other and feel connected to the community.”

As they prepare for the fall semester, Principal Cohen and the JMHS community understand the importance of shared effort and shared success. They are making an active and continuous effort to support and celebrate each other. The JMHS community celebrated their graduating class of 2020 in their own unique way, featuring all the seniors’ photos on the fences around their building perimeter!

“We always praised ourselves for our collaborative approach in our decision-making process, but during this time our team…beyond stepped up. Our teachers…(worked) in teams to support the needs of our students and to develop structures.” JMHS’ tool-kit of best practices, including their supportive spirit of openness and inclusivity “will continue to serve our community long after this pandemic has eased.”

Jodie Cohen is emblematic of how New York City’s educators are adapting to these unprecedented times on behalf of our students and families. We thank all of our staff members for helping all of us stay #DOEconnected.

Official blog for the NYC Department of Education, home of a million students across 1,800+ schools

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