Enlace Academy Students Adapt to New Ways of Pandemic Learning, Partly through Tennis
Indianapolis Art Teacher Kaitlyn Akin started her third year with Enlace Academy back in August.
“This past week was bonkers,” Kaitlyn says, explaining a recent string of staff members out sick and kids getting readjusted to in-person learning after being remote for nearly two years during the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Students, all 670 of them grades K through eight, were brought back to in-person classrooms for the 21-22 school year at Enlace Academy — an Indianapolis charter school that falls under the umbrella of Indianapolis Public Schools but still exists independently.
The academy was launched in 2013 as part of the Neighborhood Charter Network (NCN). The network is a grassroots organization with the purpose to expand educational equity to the communities it serves. It’s focused on quality and data-driven decision-making, as well as maximized time like expanded school days, to make sure students receive better instruction.
Enlace Academy was constructed on the west side of Indianapolis just off 38th Street near the Meijer superstore, and its sister school, Kindezi Academy, opened in 2016 on the east side of the city.
Enlace Academy has a large Latinx student population, and many children know each other outside of school. “[The] kids come from the neighborhood. [There’s] a lot of, ‘Oh that’s my cousin! Oh that’s my sister!’… That’s Enlace,” says Kaitlyn. And in fact, Enlace the word in Spanish means ‘link’ or ‘bond’.
Students at Enlace Academy also represent a huge range of backgrounds and diverse Latinx communities. “I think what’s so amazing about this school is it’s so many different cultures coming together,” Kaitlyn shares.
“Our main core value is leading with love… Making sure we’re reaching our students, reaching our families so that we’re a community and we come together,” says Kaitlyn.
As a teacher during COVID-19, Kaitlyn admits to a number of challenges faced by students and the teachers at Enlace as they continued to strive for family engagement opportunities.
During the school shutdown, an employee decided to reach out to Dax Lowery, the Executive Director of the NJTL of Indianapolis. NJTL is an acronym for National Junior Tennis & Learning. NJTL organizations exist across the country under the USTA Foundation and offer free to low-cost tennis and education programming to over 160,000 youth each year. NJTL of Indianapolis was able to provide equipment for the kids at Enlace Academy including tennis racquets.
“Having those extra materials, those extra resources… for the kids to be able to have access to tennis was really nice.”
Because Kaitlyn teaches during the pandemic, she's been asked to help out with other subjects like gym class.
“I got to teach P.E., STEM, Art, and SEL. So that was lots of fun,” Kaitlyn laughs.
Kaitlyn helped her children learn the ins and outs of tennis, and she really enjoyed doing it, as someone who also learned to play tennis growing up in gym class.
For many of her students, it was their first time playing tennis.
“Our kids play soccer. That’s what their parents do. That’s what their families do… Basketball’s pretty big too and volleyball, but soccer is what always gets requested, ‘Miss, can we play soccer?’,” Kaitlyn explains. “Not having access to tennis racquets, not having access to courts, not having access to nets in order to formally play… That’s kind of hard."
Parents were able to sign their children up for the tennis program at Enlace, and during the shutdown, parents would go to school and pick up their students’ homework, tablet, their tennis equipment and other essentials.
Students at home would use their tablets to learn new tennis skills. “They were able to practice in their bedroom or their backyard,” Kaitlyn says.
The kids began learning tennis remotely last fall in 2020. It wasn’t until the spring semester that kids could play in person at after-school clubs.
“When we started [the clubs] in March, it was nice to just interact with our kids. I think that helped relieve some of the stress, some of the anxiety [from COVID-19] because we were doing something that was fun.”
Kaitlyn says she’s often reminding students that we’re still dealing with the pandemic, and she understands it’s unpredictable for all of us. Since kids have returned to the building, she’s noticed a lot of her older students appreciative to be back around friends.
She’s excited for her students to continue learning tennis at Enlace Academy, which is teaming up with a local university’s athletic department to achieve more in-depth instruction for the kids.
“I just think we’re really appreciative of Dax and the Indianapolis NJTL branch for bringing that opportunity to our kids,” Kaitlyn says. “I know [the students] really enjoyed having that time.”