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COVID-19 Spurs SEP to Develop an Online Element

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In response to the cancellation of its in-person summer program due to COVID-19, the Summer Enrichment Program launched its first online program.

COVID-19 Spurs SEP to Develop an Online Element

Last spring, as it became clear that the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t going away anytime soon, plans for summer programs were being unavoidably cancelled all around the world, including — for the first time in its 15-year history — the King’s Academy Summer Enrichment Program (SEP).

SEP is the school’s oldest-running community outreach program and usually takes place during the summer break. The program identifies talented students from around the country in grades six through eight who, for three consecutive summers, spend two weeks boarding at King’s while they develop their skills in English and information technology and participate in a range of extracurricular activities led by international volunteer teachers, King’s alumni and King’s students and faculty.

In response to the cancellation, and with summer 2021 plans still uncertain, the SEP organizers knew that they had to find an alternative way to keep the program going. “It’s a long time to wait to connect with our SEP kids,” says SEP Director Salwa Manaja who had already begun thinking about virtual activities or events.

Developing an online program had long been a goal of the SEP organizers as a way to stay connected with the SEP kids and to provide them with more learning resources to work on from one summer to the next. The COVID-19 pandemic just provided the incentive to put thoughts into actions.

In November 2020, the school launched the first online version of SEP. Ten King’s students signed up as volunteer tutors, assisted by four King’s faculty members and longtime international SEP volunteer and former King’s faculty member, Tessa Fairbanks, who helped by developing the curriculum remotely from her home in South Africa.

Accessibility was a major consideration, according to Manaja, as around 80 percent of SEP students live outside of Amman in towns and cities around the country, and many lack regular access to laptops or smartphones, or do not have stable internet connections.

Despite these challenges, which resulted in 10 students withdrawing due to technical difficulties, the online SEP pilot project launched with 30 eighth grade students — who had already participated in one summer of SEP — joining their volunteer tutors for lessons in English and math twice a week on Zoom and Google Classrooms.

“It was impressive that most of last year’s class wanted to sign up for it and their consistent attendance showed that they were appreciative of the opportunity,” says King’s alumnus and faculty member Mohammad Al Quraan ’10, who had once been a SEP student himself.

Each King’s student was responsible for guiding up to eight SEP students through the lesson material and assisting them with homework. For the first time, the online SEP offered lessons in math, with a curriculum designed by King’s alumna and faculty member — and longtime SEP volunteer — Shahd Al-Jawhari ’13.

“Although SEP students are usually very strong academically, we thought we’d try math lessons to improve their English vocabulary of math terms,” says Al-Jawhari, who believes that this could positively impact their scores when taking tests like the SAT or when applying to attend King’s.

SEP has traditionally served as an early identification program for students from underprivileged areas in Jordan for possible admission into King’s, building on the school’s mission to attract top scholars and ensure diversity within its student body. During the online SEP, students and their parents attended an online information session to learn about the school’s financial aid program and how to apply.

“A lot of these kids have what it takes to excel at King’s, but they don’t think they can,” says Al Quraan. “By delivering an online program during the course of the year, we stay more connected and it gives the students more enthusiasm and confidence to apply to King’s as well.”

“I was surprised how motivated my students were and also how much I enjoyed teaching them and interacting with them,” says first-time volunteer tutor Tala Hammad ’23, who worked with her SEP students on expanding their English vocabulary and conversational skills.

Volunteer Wedad Al Rousan ’22 also enjoyed getting to know her students. “We had a lot of interests in common, which allowed me to understand them better and helped me know how to help each one individually as much as I could. In the end, we all learned from each other.”

Although the online version cannot offer many aspects of the summer program, such as boarding, sports, arts, cultural and other in-person activities, Manaja believes SEP Online has provided a welcome opportunity for the SEP students to build bonds with each other and their volunteer tutors as well as immerse themselves in an interesting educational program. 

“Our aim was to connect with the kids, create this channel and get them comfortable with online technologies,” says Manaja, pleased with what she calls “a really good pilot project.”

With many new aspects to this year’s program, as it adapts and evolves, undoubtedly one of the unique outcomes of SEP Online has been the opportunity for current King’s students to take on the role of teaching instead of adults. “It was a different way of doing it,” says Al-Jawhari. “Our students really stepped up, taking on these lessons and the challenges that teachers are faced with, and online too!”