In the midst of COVID-19 hitting our state, school leaders were faced with a number of urgent questions.
What is a pandemic plan? What should be included, excluded? Where is decisive guidance? How are schools sharing information? Will we have to make the decision to close our school on our own?
As it became clear that the state would likely close schools, more questions came. What does this mean for instructional hours? How will we ensure that all students continue to make adequate academic progress? How do we prioritize continuity of learning?
As a New Castle County school leader and mother who serves students from all walks of life, including those who come from high-needs areas, the idea of “distance learning” brought up questions for me that some of my colleagues in other schools did not have to consider. What does distance learning mean for students who do not have internet access? How do we provide food to students who rely on our breakfast and lunch? How do we stay in communication and provide support with families who are difficult to reach even during regular times?
Amidst the uncertainty, we had to act fast and on our own. Our teachers came in and worked late at night and early in the morning to create packets for our students in every subject. The packets were both posted on the website for downloads and printed out for parents to pick up. We put together a list of grab and go food options and healthcare tips. We created a plan with our support staff to ensure that every single student receives a personal contact while the building is closed. As a school that cannot afford a one-to-one technology program, giving out Chromebooks and a list of online resources wasn’t an option.
We are doing our best but feel helpless as we look at the possibility of closure beyond two weeks. We know that despite our emails, our website and social media postings, our printed packets, our phone calls, our sheer will and dedication, our effort won’t be enough. We know that some of our families, who have intermittent or zero access to the internet, will not get any of our messages. We know that some of our students, those who need additional and personalized support to stay focused on work, will likely lose focus as the weeks go on.
And what resources will we have or not have to educate and support at that point? We know that our students need every single academic minute so that we can continue to close learning gaps that existed long before they stepped foot in our school community. We fear the possibility of double and triple the amount of the usual “summer slide” and the implications of what that means for our students’ long term academic – and life – success.
When systems fall apart, the most vulnerable suffer most. We all need access to partnership and community right now to serve the needs of our kids together. When this pandemic has passed, let’s use the opportunity to return to a new normal, not the same normal: a normal where school leaders learn from each other, where we have seats at decision making tables, where those who hold us accountable spend time in our classrooms, and where we are supported in fundamentally transforming the experience of those children most impacted by this crisis so they are not continually and forever exposed.