Excellent SA teachers often become assistant principals and senior leaders, or bring their classroom expertise to the network office. Sometimes, they leave SA to pursue other big dreams — and such is the case with Melissa Scatena. Melissa used to be a lead teacher at SA Harlem 1, where she won an Excellence Award for Academic Achievement. While Melissa fell in love with the school community and the SA approach to teaching and learning, she always knew that she wanted to expand access to excellent learning opportunities far and wide. Ultimately, that’s why she decided to start her own remote learning company — Scattered Solutions — to bring high quality, engaging learning programs to students around the world.
This summer, Melissa once again became part of the SA family when our Experiential Learning team partnered with Scattered Solutions and a range of other experts, educators, and leaders to create SA Summer Together. SA high schoolers and eighth graders have been enrolling in free, optional courses to help make these weeks of socially-distanced summer more meaningful and fun. We caught up with Melissa to hear her story as an educator and entrepreneur and discuss what it’s like to see SA scholars in her “classrooms” again.
What has been the best part of having SA scholars participate in your courses this summer?
I love getting to see the outcome of the SA approach to teaching in elementary school manifesting in the high schoolers. Everyone who signed up for our Adulting 101 and Goal Setting courses is so driven! These scholars have their own high expectations for themselves and are so thoughtful about their goals. They are already thinking about what they want to do with their lives, so creating a LinkedIn profile, writing a resume, and learning how to write professional emails don’t just seem like exercises that they will use “one day.” They can see the real-world value and they are so excited to take ownership of these things. It’s been really cool for me to see what we were working toward in our first-grade classrooms. These scholars are growing into truly impressive young adults with a set of values and clear-mindedness that is setting them up to stand out.
Our summer program is called Summer Together. How do you build that sense of togetherness through remote classes?
We leverage technology to make our classes as interactive as possible. Kids can drag and drop things on the screen for everyone to see, and we have live polls so that even when they don’t want to unmute themselves to speak to the group, they can participate. At Scattered Solutions, our classes focus a lot on relationship building. We take time to play games and get to know each other. Teachers message scholars who seem like they are having an “off” day — that doesn’t always get to happen in a traditional classroom.
For the Success scholars, it’s been a great experience because most of them don’t actually know each other when they start out. It’s great for the high schoolers to meet scholars from different grades and start building a community that will continue to be fostered once they are back in the building. In our Goal Setting course, we encouraged them to find an “accountability buddy” to help keep their momentum going. Most said they chose their siblings or their parents, but one scholar said, “I don’t have an accountability buddy. Does anybody in this room want to be mine?” They paired up so that they could help each other. It’s also a nice opportunity for the younger scholars to ask questions from the upperclassmen.
What drew you to a career in education?
My drive to teach, and my desire to start my own organization, both developed from feelings of frustration at the fact that so many students lack access to important learning opportunities. I’m a Teach for America alumna, and I spent time traveling and teaching online in different school systems around the world before coming to Success Academy. I was drawn to SA because of the organization’s dual mission and because I wanted to push myself to grow as an educator — I’d heard about the culture of high expectations from a friend. The type of teaching that I learned to do at Success, the high expectations and commitment to excellence, are what I strive for in our approach at Scattered Solutions.
From an educator’s perspective, what are some top tips for remote teaching and learning?
It’s all about learning what works and what doesn’t when it comes to behavior management and engagement. We’ve found that narrating is super important on Zoom. We say every kids’ name at multiple points throughout the class, we ask kids to give directions to the rest of the class, we call out who we see in the Google Doc and who we are still waiting on to open it. You can use tools to see who is following along — on Google slides, you can see who is active in the document and who isn’t.
It’s also about having fun with the technology. Our elementary school teachers make use of the Zoom backgrounds to keep kids interested and amused. One benefit of remote teaching is that the students actually have to make a lot more eye contact with the teacher than in a usual classroom. There isn’t as much to read on the walls, they can’t see what their friend is doing that’s distracting. We’ve found that in many ways the students can actually be more engaged.