Reimagining the Classroom at Match Next

Garrett Schilling works with one of his students.

Garrett Schilling works with one of his students.

Garrett Schilling is a tutor at Match Next this year. He has hipster beard and a brown leather notebook with refillable paper he carries from class to class. Garrett grew up all over the United States, but calls Oklahoma home. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Science from Southwestern Oklahoma State University and after several stints as an outdoor educator, decided he wanted to become a teacher. He applied to the Match Teacher Residency – the first year of Match’s Sposato Graduate School of Education – and asked to be placed at Match Next, because he knew it would require even more one-on-one interaction with students than Match Corps tutors do. 

Match Next is Match Education’s latest K12 innovation: it’s our effort to reimagine how to organize the human resources in a school. Instead of the traditional classroom, with one teacher in a room of 25 students, we’re building a new model. In one grade, three master teachers oversee 30 tutors (all AmeriCorps members), who work with 100 students. In a typical class period, students are organized into groups of three or four, overseen by one tutor. 

To see Match Next in action is to see a totally different kind of classroom, one with a lot more adults than a normal classroom has. Students and tutors sit at desks configured into pods. Every kid has a Chromebook and all of the class materials – lessons, assessments, classwork, homework, etc. – are housed in the cloud, on Google Classroom. Master teachers check in on students individually and spend a few minutes with each pod of kids to see spot-check their progress and check for understanding.  

This year, Garrett has worked one-on-one with 10 fifth graders in English and social studies. He spends hours with his kids each day working through the day’s lessons and independent work. He talks and texts regularly with their parents. As a result of spending so much time in close proximity, Garrett and his kids know all sorts of things about each other: favorite bands, interests, food, weekend plans, siblings, struggles at home.

Garrett spends a lot of time on his right knee during the day, kneeling down next to his students as they get to work. “About 60 percent of my job is poking and prodding and course correction,” he says. The group of four boys he’s working with today have diverse needs – one student is a plodder; another works fast (Garrett describes him as a “grumpy old man in a 10-year old body”); the third boy is capable, but has a hard time staying on task; and the fourth boy, who is new to Match this year, is catching up academically and adjusting to the high expectations of his new school. 

He has a few constant refrains (he must say these things hundreds of times a week): “What are you having a hard time with?” “What is this trying to teach us?” “You can do it, try again.” “I’m not telling you – look it up.” “Ok, that’s pretty good!”  

The big lesson students are working on today is identifying and interpreting poetic devices in songs. Each student was supposed to bring in a song from home to analyze – those who forgot to pick a song are given a copy of “Happy” by Pharrell. As class gets underway, Garrett reminds his students to pull out their poetry glossaries to use as a reference tool. He pushes them to think through the use of things like repetition, metaphor and simile to influence the mood, tone, theme and point of view of the song. 

Garrett has learned a lot about teaching and about how to connect with kids this year. But one of his biggest lessons has to do with how he presents himself. At the beginning of the year, Garrett’s eyebrows were permanently furrowed, his mouth fixed in a perpetual grimace. It was a look of concentration, and he was concentrating a lot! Sposato faculty identified this tendency and gave him feedback. “I think I was scaring the kids,” he says.  Now he smiles more and tries to ensure his “resting face” is a friendly one. It seems to be making a difference in his daily interactions with his students. 

The hardest part of the work for Garrett has been learning to not give kids the answers. His teacher persona is athletic coach – firm, but fair, and caring. “I’ve learned that it’s a long game to get kids to do the work themselves,” Garrett explains. “At the beginning of the year I was doing too much scaffolding - too much work for my students - but now they’re developing enough stamina to do their own work.”  

Next year, as a second year graduate student at Sposato, Garrett will be teaching middle school science at UP-Boston in South Boston. Meanwhile, the work at Match Next will continue. Over the next couple of years, we’ll integrate some of the best practices we’ve learned about technology in the classroom and individualized learning at Next across all our grade levels.

Becoming a Teacher

Miranda-Gomez directs students in her class.

At barely five feet, Brenda Miranda-Gomez is smaller than most people. But she moves faster, and with much more purpose. Trailing her around Match High School is to see a young woman who has found her calling: teacher. 

She’s already developed eyes in the back of her head. During the four minute transition time between classes she doles out a series of instructions, reprimands and encouragement to students as she weaves her ways through the crowded hallways: “Tuck in your shirt, Israel.” “I’ll see you in tutorial later, right?” “Where are you supposed to be right now?” “Hey, I consider freakin’ a bad word.” “High-five, let’s go.” 

Brenda has two little brothers. She credits this with her natural tendency to be in charge. Brenda grew up with her two brothers, and her mom, in an urban and largely Latino neighborhood in Riverside, CA. Brenda knew from an early age that she wanted to move away from her home city, in her words, “to get out and be successful.” She excelled in high school and attended UC-Berkeley, where she majored in math.  

As graduation approached, she started researching education-focused organizations and got curious about charter schools. “I wished I’d had the ‘no excuses’ charter model for myself growing up,” she says. She had friends who’d done Teach For America, but nobody she knew stuck with teaching after they’d completed their two-year TFA commitment. She knew she wanted to try something different. And she knew she wanted to live on the East coast. So, she applied and was accepted to the Match Teacher Residency (MTR), the first year of the Sposato Graduate School of Education

Miranda-Gomez meets with her Sposato coach, Jawad Brown.

Miranda-Gomez meets with her Sposato coach, Jawad Brown.

MTRs spend the first year of Sposato’s two-year Master’s program working full-time as a tutor at a Match campus or teaching assistant at one of our partner schools, and completing coursework and practice (including Group of Six) on the weekends. During the spring semester of the school year, MTRs also teach at least two full class periods a week. During the second year of the program, Sposato graduate students work as full-time teachers, continuing their coursework online and receiving regular feedback and coaching from Sposato faculty.  (Brenda has accepted a job teaching 9th grade math and Excel Academy High School next year.) 

The culture of continuous feedback is one of Brenda’s favorite things about Sposato, along with her students, the good friends she’s made and the opportunity to live in a new city. (Her first time in Boston was when she moved here.) “I love how immediate and specific the feedback is,” she says. “I can implement it quickly and keep getting better.” 

The day we visit, Brenda has several tutoring sessions and is student teaching a 9th grade algebra class. Brenda can do high school math in her sleep, but during tutorial, she slows down the pace of her kids.  She bounces her right knee under the table as she works and clicks her four-color ballpoint pen from red to blue ink. “We’re going to go through it step by step so it sinks in a little more,” she says.  Together, they work through math problems that require students to factor out the leading coefficient, write equations as binomials, identify the vertex and write quadratic equations for given points on a graph. 

In class, Brenda immediately gets her kids to work on a “do now.” She gives a kid with the sniffles a tissue (early-spring colds are hanging on), and walks to the back of the classroom to stand next to a student who looks disengaged, slumped over in his chair. The aim of the day’s lesson is to transform quadratic equations. Her class is an energetic mix of lecture and independent practice. It’s orderly and you can see how hard she works to put the thinking work – the cognitive load – back on her students. 

Being a teacher, especially a new teacher, is hard for many reasons. But it’s especially hard because of the thousands of decisions teachers are required to make every hour. Sposato gives its students lots of on-the-job and simulated practice to help many of those decisions start to feel instinctual. Before every student teaching day, Brenda’s faculty coach from Sposato gives her something specific to concentrate on- an instructional move or a classroom management technique called a big takeaway – during class. On this day, Brenda is working on setting clear expectations by being more intentional about how she uses the white board at the front of the class.  This is the kind of nitty-gritty, specific feedback she loves, because it’s so actionable. 

After her lesson, Brenda has a 45-minute feedback session with her Sposato coach, Jawad Brown. (Jawad was a 7th and 8th grade math teacher for several years before joining Match).  He starts off the coaching session by asking Brenda how she thinks the class went – what went well, what could have gone better, what she was thinking and feeling at certain moments in the lesson.  He congratulates Brenda on a great day.  Her big takeaway for the next lesson? Challenging students to use more mathematical vocabulary. She’ll implement it during the following day’s lesson. 

“In middle and high school my teachers kept me going,” Brenda says. “They helped me believe I could go to Cal, that I could major in math. When I look at my kids, I know I want to do the same thing for them.” 

Match More: Ending the Summer Slide

During every recess period, Carla reads and talks about a new book with Ms. Davis. A year ago, she arrived in sixth grade two grade levels behind in reading.  She refused to read aloud in class. Every minute of guided reading makes the difference to her, and she's now only six months behind grade level. What Carla needs is a summer filled with trips to the library, museums and a guided reading program to help her select, read and talk about books.  But last summer, she visited the library only once and hung out at home. 

During sixth grade, Kevin was eager to do well in school and to make his parents and teachers proud.  But things changed the following year. There was stress at home and the family budget was too tight for him to participate in the local baseball league. His drive to excel faded to underperformance in school. Kevin needs an idyllic summer camp where he can be a kid and can get back in touch with his hopes and dreams and re-imagine himself.  He told us he was a little “bored this summer."  

Unfortunately, these stories are all too common.  Stories like Kevin and Carla’s have inspired us to launch a new initiative called Match More, that will aim to give all our students access to amazing summer experiences. 

Research compiled by the National Summer Learning Association show that during the school year, lower-income children’s skills improve at close to the same rate as those of their more advantaged peers. But over the summer, middle and higher-income children’s skills continue to improve, while lower-income children’s skills stall.  What happens when all the summers of "hanging out" pile up? Summer learning loss, also known as the “Summer Slide” or “Summer Setback.”

The impact of summer learning loss is serious academic and life consequences for our kids. Consider the research.

  • Two-thirds of the ninth grade achievement gap between disadvantaged youth and their more advantaged peers can be explained by the unequal access to to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years (Alexander et al, 2007). All the losses pile up, contributing to an achievement gap that can make the difference between whether students set out on a college path or decide to drop out of high school.
  • By the time a low-income student reaches 6th grade, she has had 6,000 fewer hours of learning time than her middle- and upper-income peers.
  • Most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement, despite the fact that their middle-class peers make slight gains (Cooper, 1996).
  • Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer (White, 1906; Heyns, 1978; Entwisle & Alexander 1992; Cooper, 1996; Downey et al, 2004).
  • Children lose more than academic knowledge over the summer. Most children—particularly children at high risk of obesity—gain weight more rapidly when they are out of school during summer break (Von Hippel et al, 2007).

Our mission at Match More is to give all our students access to amazing summer experiences - in the great outdoors, sports, academics, the arts, service and beyond.  

For students like Carla, an academic program is essential this summer. She needs a program like Summer Ink at Simmons College where she'll go on interesting field trips and end her day writing about her experiences. For students like Kevin, an overnight camp like Brantwood, situated in the great outdoors with a focus on leadership development, will re-ignite his passion to learn and make good choices.  

In a parent survey of Match families this fall, 90% of families stated that cost as the #1 barrier to enrolling kids in summer programs.  Here is what Match More does to help:           

  • We identify high quality summer programs across New England.
  • We partner with these programs to secure free or subsidized placements for Match students.
  • We work with families to identify the right opportunity for their child, and we help them apply.
  • We raise funds to cover partial tuition, transportation and other incidental costs.

Help us end the summer slide for Match students. Click on MatchMore to donate and become a fundraiser.

Food for a Thousand

The vast majority of our 1,000 students eat breakfast and lunch with us every day. At Match, we do our best to offer kids healthy meals. The last couple of years, we've done that with help from our partners at Revolution Foods. What follows is a Q&A with Joshua Birdsall of Revolution Foods, about the company's philosophy, menu and how many apples they go through in a week (hint: it's a lot). 

What’s your philosophy?
Our mission is to build lifelong healthy eaters by making kid-inspired, chef-crafted food accessible to all. We believe that high quality, real food can be fun, flavorful, and good for the body and for the mind!
 
Who creates your menu?
Our menu is a true partnership between our dedicated team of chefs, nutritionists, and local representatives.  
 
What food can’t kids get enough of?
Our food needs to be delicious first, and healthy second. Not to say that healthy isn’t important to us, because it truly is. But our experience has been that you can serve the healthiest school lunches in the world, but none of it will matter if kids don’t want to eat it! To that point, our strategy is to put a better-for-you twist on kid-favorite meals.

It’s hard to pick an absolute winner, but some of our kid favorites this year have been our chicken potstickers (steamed in a whole wheat dumpling wrapper), our inside out cheese pizza (think healthy calzone!), and our all-natural hot dog.

You guys refer to your food as “real food." What does that mean?
Real food can mean so many different things to so many different people, which is why we’ve created a detailed list of ingredient standards for our meals. At its core, though, real food means simple, unprocessed, freshly-prepared food. Research shows that this kind of food is naturally rich in essential nutrients and does not contain empty calories from added sugar and fat or excess salt. Our menu focuses on whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein. We do not allow artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, or sweeteners, in addition to over 52 other “never ever” processed food additives and ingredients.

How many meals/snacks do you make a day for Match?
Between its campuses, we make an average of 600 breakfasts, 885 lunches, and 785 snacks a day for Match!

How do you get it to us? 
A day in the life of a Revolution Foods meal starts early! Our local culinary teams hand-prepare our meals daily, then ship them overnight and deliver them in the morning to each school site by truck.  

Do you freeze your food? 
This may not sound intuitive, but frozen food doesn’t necessarily go against our ingredient standards. Once fruits and vegetables are harvested, the plant will essentially starts to eat itself (and its essential nutrients) in order to stay alive. This means the longer that produce sits unused, the less nutrient dense it will be. Freezing fresh produce can actually be a great way to preserve the nutrients, which is why we sometimes use frozen vegetables.

Apples are the icon of school lunch. How many pounds of apples do you use in a week?
It changes every week, depending on what’s menued. But to give you a rough idea, next week we’re projecting around 600 cases of apples, that 84,000 individual apples for our clients in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.