Recently in The 74, representatives from three philanthropic organizations supporting public education shared their perspective on COVID innovations worth supporting. Excerpts from their piece appear below:
The Canopy Project tracked how hundreds of schools across the country adapted and innovated last year in student-centered ways. The following adaptations these schools developed hold enormous potential to address longstanding inequities:
Strengthening communication and partnership with families
During the pandemic, many schools enhanced their communications to build stronger relationships between educators and students’ families. At Concourse Village Elementary School in the Bronx, communication with families had been done mostly as needed, and the principal feared parents didn’t really want to talk to the school. During COVID-19, the school began a weekly electronic survey to check in with families — first about their technology needs, then, increasingly, about mental health, food security, and other challenges. Families could report positive COVID diagnoses, request assistance with food or technology or share other pertinent information. This fall, school staff built on that experience by designing a more comprehensive family communications plan, including monthly surveys, regular followup phone calls and virtual visits. School staff have a much better understanding of families’ situations, and families feel cared for and respected.
Personalizing supports to ensure all students get the opportunity they need
To give students and families personalized sources of support, Washington’s Anacostia High School expanded its Dream Team program during the pandemic from ninth graders to the whole school. The program matches each student with an adult responsible for his or her development and learning. Non-teaching staff members and the principal participated to ensure there was an adult for each student. Students got extra support, while every family had a direct point of contact at the school and every staff member demonstrated the capacity to build meaningful, individual relationships with students.
Expanding the idea of where learning can happen
Students across the country experienced learning in new ways and different settings, and while many online experiences were low-quality, there were bright spots where virtual and non-traditional learning models responded to previously unmet needs.
At Nokomis High School in Maine, the pandemic expanded students’ and families’ vision for what school can be, increasing demand for more relevant learning experiences. So the school created virtual career development opportunities to replace traditional in-person job shadowing and internships. These will continue to benefit students post-pandemic by providing access to experiences beyond their rural setting.
These practices may have arisen during a pandemic but would be powerful in any context. What would it look like to fundamentally reinvent school to break down barriers among staff, students and families; prioritize self-direction; and create learning experiences outside the four walls of a school? These innovative communities are showing how it can be done.