A year ago, the pandemic forced profound changes at The Branch School – indeed, for every school and student across the country – as we had to offer our private school online. Nevertheless, we head into the final months of this school year with full and grateful hearts. Our in-person mitigation practices have worked better than we could have imagined, as every member of our kind community cooperated with specific demands and mandates including masks, social distancing, and the protocols dictated by the Magnus Health app. Because of our shared commitment, we’ve stayed healthy and many students who began the year remote learning as VSLs - virtual synchronous learners at home – now feel comfortable learning here on campus. Each child who returns represents another small step towards the more “normal” environment we’ve all yearned for, and points towards expanded opportunities and activities in the coming school year. (We can’t wait to welcome parents back inside our halls and classrooms again!)
There is much in the news about potential learning loss caused by the year-long Covid-19 crisis. Early data indicates the pandemic may have accelerated racial and socioeconomic disparities, with some research pointing to compromised reading skills and other experts insisting it’s math that will give students problems in the coming year. Branch students, thankfully, have not only stayed on track but most have excelled, thanks to the extraordinary work of our faculty who know each student well and are skilled in presenting and teaching challenging academic concepts – even over ZOOM.
Given this disruptive year, we invite parents seeking a clear-eyed assessment of their child’s academic situation to apply to The Branch School this spring. Our admissions process offers parents a full picture of strengths and can reveal any learning gaps that may have emerged during this pandemic year. Our admissions representatives make time to meet with parents to answer questions and review any areas of concern. And of course, we love getting to know prospective students and learning about all the things that ignite their curiosity, their interests, and their sense of discovery.
Because of our intentionally small scale, Branch teachers are able to offer personalized, differentiated instruction to address academic areas that might need shoring up. Sometimes, it’s a matter of exposure: a newly-enrolled student simply hasn’t seen a particular topic. Other times, more tailored instruction helps a learner get over a hump. Our teachers have strategies to scaffold learning so that the anxious math student may develop into a confident mathematician; the reluctant reader may discover the magic of story, losing himself in a book he simply can’t put down. And reading, we know, expands vocabularies, opening doors to deeper comprehension across other academic disciplines. Because ours is an environment of happy support and positivity, children with specific gaps in their learning don’t lose confidence in themselves and become discouraged; they simply know this is an area that requires focus.
One member of our faculty shares how math instruction at Branch helps clarify what each student needs to advance in his or her learning:
I give time each week for projects. These projects are generally open-ended, real-world problems that allow students to apply what they are learning in class. This is a great way to stretch those students who are advanced, as I can ask them to find more complex solutions. It also allows all students to feel successful as they are creating the projects on their own level. These projects give me time to see what areas students need extra support in, and to allow me time to work with those who may need extra help in a certain area.
When a new student enrolls in The Branch School with no prior instruction in Spanish, this teacher calls on more experienced students in ways that enhance everyone’s skills:
I use this opportunity to have current students use their knowledge to support the new student when extra help is needed. By teaching another student, it gives students confidence in what they already know and helps them better internalize it.
This alumnus told us the pace of learning at The Branch School fits what each student needs – within those topics that are easily mastered, as well as those that involve more challenging material:
The faculty provided so much comfort and encouragement as they gave each and every one of us the perfect amount of attention. Our classes were set up so we were able to learn at our own increasing pace, keeping us continually challenged, and never bored!
At Branch, we lead with love. Teaching and learning begins with the conviction that children learn best in a loving, supportive environment that honors their own unlimited potential. In an affirming, encouraging atmosphere, children go further and learn more than even they imagined. The apprehension of being “the new kid” quickly fades.
As a member of our faculty has frequently observed:
Our students are so welcoming that if you were to walk into a classroom, you would never know who had arrived a week earlier or been there since PreK as they instantly become part of our school community.
A teacher’s belief in a student’s capabilities and talents often serves as the seed for that child to cultivate belief in him or herself. Every child has areas of giftedness but that’s not to say every child excels with ease in every class. That’s not to be expected. But with the insightful, supportive guidance of our teachers, our students know they can tackle anything and do their best.
Branch Academic Coordinator Laura Davis sums it up this way:
Our goal at The Branch is to learn where each child is in their understanding of concepts, and then to build on that understanding. In this way, we can both fill in gaps as well as stretch those students with an advanced understanding. Many students have come to us with a feeling that “I am not good at math,” and they have left us confidently enjoying math, welcoming challenging material and well-prepared for advanced high school math.
Ready for a conversation about whether The Branch School might be the right private school in Houston for your child? Start here. We look forward to getting to know you and your child.
Emily Smith, Head of School, graduate of Smith College and M.A., University of Connecticut School of Education.