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How Middle School 74 uses Hāpara Highlights to keep learners focused

It’s a challenge to keep learners focused online. Explore how a middle school in NYC Public Schools solves this problem with Hāpara Highlights.
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Nathaniel Hawthorne Middle School 74 is an award-winning school in New York City Public Schools. It was recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School and designated as a New York State Reward School. Through personalized support and a commitment to high expectations, the school strives to help every learner succeed. One way the school does this is by using Hāpara Highlights to help learners focus and make responsible choices online.

Supporting a diverse learning community

Located in District 26, the school supports close to 1100 learners. Families who are zoned, or live near the school, may enroll their child, and the school also welcomes learners through a  screened program. Learners speak a wide range of languages, including Arabic, Bengali, Cantonese, Chinese, Hebrew, Korean, Pashto, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Ukrainian and Urdu. 

Horizon Program

Middle School 74 also offers the Horizon Program, which supports learners with autism who are on or close to grade level academically. The Horizon program offers small class sizes of eight students in grades six through eight. 

Dave LaPoma, Ed.D, Assistant Principal at Middle School 74, explains that the program provides support to learners, such as helping them with social emotional needs, so they can access the general education curriculum. 

Robust advanced coursework

District 26 in NYC Public Schools is one of the highest achieving districts, and Middle School 74 continues to rank at the top in ELA and math scores. The school also has a number of learners who move on to specialized high schools. Additionally, it offers a robust advanced program of coursework for middle schoolers, allowing them to take three Regents Examinations which help toward satisfying high school diploma requirements. 

Using technology to support learning

Middle School 74 has one-to-one devices for digital learning. Currently, parents are able to select whether they want their child to use a school-issued device or a personal device. The school’s goal, though, is to move to all school-issued Chromebooks to streamline school management.

Students’ experience with technology may be personalized, especially for those with additional learning needs. This could depend on the way the child interacts with school, with devices, with their peers. 

Educators and learners across the school also use Google Classroom. Lana Neuman, a 15-year teaching veteran, is a seventh grade science educator at Middle School 74. Lana has five different science classes and differentiates her Google Classroom content based on each class’s needs. Google Classroom is especially helpful in creating consistency for learners who are absent. 

For learners with executive functioning challenges, it can be overwhelming to check multiple places for assignments and materials. In this case, Google Classroom, when managed correctly by the teacher, gives them the structure they need to manage their tasks. 

Lana says, “They stay on top of everything. I post every single lesson, and I post every homework assignment.” She does this week by week so learners can clearly see what they missed and need to complete.

“This helps the parent know what’s going on and the students themselves can see what they’re missing,” says Dave.

Overall, Dave says that technology boosts learning because it opens up avenues of communication between educators, parents and learners. 

Biggest challenges for middle school learners

Lana says that two of the biggest distractions for students while learning digitally are games and online conversations. For example, students create a shared Google Doc with all of their friends and have conversations back and forth in the Google Doc. Lana didn’t realize this was happening initially because they appeared to be engaged in a Google Doc class activity.

She says it’s not necessarily the fault of learners, though. “I think it’s the way the world is right now. They have everything at their fingertips.” She explains that distractions can be an adrenaline rush for kids; even adults have the urge to check their cell phones constantly. Kids don’t want to miss out on a message from a friend, so it becomes a distraction. 

“We didn’t have that when we were all in school, so we could be more focused,” says Lana.

Dave adds that self-control is a challenge for middle schoolers.


“Developmentally they have trouble with self-control. When they have all of this at their fingertips, and they know how to access everything, it makes it even harder for them to focus.”

Even if a teacher has strong classroom management, structure and circulates the classroom, learners at this age will still struggle to focus.

Why a digital classroom management tool is a must

To solve this problem, Middle School 74 uses Hāpara Highlights, a Chrome browser monitoring tool that works smoothly with Google Classroom. This classroom management tool gives teachers visibility into what learners are doing online and allows teachers to guide learners’ browsing. 

The Middle School 74 administrative team always aims to find the right tools to support their teachers. In this case, it took just three weeks for their classrooms to be up and running with Highlights from the time the administrative team first heard about it. 

“The ability to, when you’re trying to give instructions in a classroom, control where students are [online], those are the new classroom management tools teachers need to be effective in a classroom,” Dave says. 

When learners are on devices, he explains, the traditional “hands down, eyes on me, 1-2-3,” doesn’t work. With Hāpara Highlights, though, teachers can pause screens instantly. Learners then know that they need to look up and listen to instructions.

Lana also likes the “Guide browsing” feature because she has the ability to focus student browsing on specific websites. She can also use the “Freeze tabs” feature to lock their browsing on tabs that are already open, keeping learners focused on what they need to accomplish for science class.

The Highlights feature she uses most often is the “Current Screens” tab. With this, she can see what learners are viewing on their Chrome browsers in real time. This gives her the visibility she needs to know which learners are on task and which need digital citizenship support. For learners who have off-task tabs open, she can close those tabs and select a reason for closing them to give clear feedback. 

Lana also uses the “Message” feature to send learners private messages with digital citizenship feedback. This is helpful because she can send a reminder or check in with a learner without needing to call them out in front of the rest of the class.

Parents and guardians appreciate digital classroom management

Dave says that parents and guardians also appreciate that teachers use Hapara Highlights. “I think parents value a bit of oversight while students have it in the school building.”

One of the reasons is that teachers can only use Hapara Highlights within the window of the school day and only within the school’s WiFi network, which is something that other similar tools are not able to support. 

Dave says that otherwise it would be an uncomfortable situation for families if a teacher could see what learners are doing at home on a device off hours. “We have to make sure school is school and home is home.”

Developing digital citizens

When Lana closes one learner’s tab or freezes a learner’s screen on websites for learning, word gets around. This word-of-mouth curtails any other distraction issues, and the rest of the class makes sure they are focused on the correct websites.

“We have a number of students who want to use the device correctly. But even then, at the middle school age, it’s tough to filter through all the websites to find the right resources,” says Dave. “When you hand them the genie’s lamp and infinite knowledge, it’s, ‘Where do I go with this?’”

Because of this, he says, having a classroom management tool is developmentally appropriate for middle school.


“It helps the middle school mind focus on that task.”

Having the structure and management that teachers provide helps learners succeed. “It’s going to help them build toward digital citizenship,” says Dave. 

With Highlights, teachers can personalize that structure and management for individual learners or groups. They can then transition them to more responsibility over time. 

Dave explains that at that point, “When it’s unrestricted, they know what to expect and what to look for. ‘Okay, this makes sense. This is what my teacher was showing me. Stay away from this. I’ve never seen this before.’ It’s definitely part of the pathway.”

He continues, “A lot of kids really want to do the right thing. It’s not that they all want to play video games. They want to learn. So it’s great for all those students who want to develop their own skills.”

Learn more about the ways Hāpara Highlights can help teachers keep students focused.

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