Breaking Through the Distance:

How Relationships Foster Online Learning

Insights from Breakthrough Collaborative’s Nationwide 2020 Virtual Summer Program

With more than four decades of success in closing the opportunity gap for under-resourced students, Breakthrough is a National leader in educational equity. In the spring of 2020, in response to COVID-19, Breakthrough’s 24 affiliates embarked on an unprecedented, networkwide mobilization to develop a digital ecosystem that could provide meaningful academic and social-emotional support for thousands of students across the country. Given widely held conventional wisdom about the limitations of virtual learning, there was little certainty that Breakthrough’s high-energy, fun-filled, relationship-based summer program could be effectively translated to a remote environment. However, once underway, it became clear that community building, teaching, and learning can be successful online with the right resources and planning.

This report, the first in a series that will share findings from Breakthrough’s summer experiences, focuses on SIX STRATEGIES TO BEST ENGAGE STUDENTS DURING VIRTUAL LEARNING. Data from this paper are primarily sourced from interviews, focus groups, and surveys from students, teachers, and affiliate leaders conducted in August and September 2020. We hope the learnings chronicled in this paper provide useful examples that can be employed by schools and other programs. A second paper focused on mobilizing college-age teaching fellows, a key success factor in student learning, will be available in early 2021.

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