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How do we measure student success in a pandemic and economic disruption?

How Does Public Education Evolve in a Pandemic: One Question to Consider

WHAT IS BEST FOR OUR STUDENTS?

News stories tell us that schools may open in some cities. Others won’t, at least not yet. School district surveys reveal mixed feelings. Students want back, educators might feel safer teaching from home while parents are unsure. Meanwhile, the wealthier parents hire private tutors. We wonder what is prudent public health policy regarding public education in a pandemic. We seek thoughtful leadership to guide the process.

I recommend you read as much as you can on the subject of schools reopening, including all CDC guidelines and the article by educator Chris Jones (published on Medium) I Spent 3 Weeks in School, With Kids, Under Covid-19: The private school where I teach followed CDC guidelines to the letter. Let this be a cautionary tale.

The pandemic has disrupted our school systems, along with other vital institutions, in significant ways. For those paying attention, the virus and the financial downturn are about to make life far more challenging for many families. Some of these families with school-age children and youth were struggling before the pandemic. If we take the right actions, our public education system can play a significant role is helping students and their families through the transition to what we hope is a post-COVID-19 society.

School districts, along with students and families, face unprecedented challenges. Addressing them requires expertise from a wide range of fields. One idea to consider is for the school district superintendent’s office to create what might be called the Task Force on School and Family Partnership. This Task Force could help create a shared vision, goals and action steps to meet the needs of students, families and the entire school community during an era of colliding crises that includes the pandemic, business closures, job losses and adverse childhood experiences and trauma.

I would strongly suggest that this task force be in place to advise the district as they consider the health consequences of reopening.

Consider the following experts for a school district Task Force and the reasons why their expertise is of great benefit today. The following Task Force member’s descriptions refer to data from the 100% Community Survey of parents indicating gaps in vital services in Rio Arriba County, which are not unlike other counties in New Mexico.

Medical Expert: Up to 30% of parents who report needing medical and dental care have difficulty accessing it. In a pandemic, this must be addressed with a sense of urgency. This expert can advise the district on how best to address the health disparities, how to guide students to health care, as well as how to best follow federal and state protocols for COVID-19 prevention and treatment.

Mental Health Expert: Almost half of parents who report needing behavioral health care services have difficulty accessing it. With the stresses and strains family members are experiencing with the pandemic, social isolation and financial downturn, along with high rates of adverse childhood experiences, counseling is a vital service. This expert can advise the district on how best to guide students and family members to behavioral health care to address adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and the trauma within the school community.

Food Security Expert: About one-third of parents who report needing food security programs have difficulty accessing it. With the financial downturn, food insecurity will grow. This expert can advise the district on how best to address hunger and food insecurity among students and the entire school community.

Housing Security Expert: Two-thirds of parents who report needing housing security programs have difficulty accessing it. With the financial downturn, housing insecurity and homelessness will grow. This expert can advise the district on how best to address housing insecurity among students and families.

Transportation Expert: Over half of parents who report needing transportation to vital services have difficulty accessing it. With the financial downturn, transportation insecurity will grow, impacting student’s capacity to get to vital services such as medical and mental health care. This expert can advise the district on how best to address transportation insecurity among families and the entire school community.

Parent Support Expert: Between 30% and 50% of parents who report needing various forms of parents supports, including home visiting, child care and parenting classes, have difficulty accessing them. This expert can advise the district on how best to address meeting parents’ needs with either school-based or community-based services.

Early Childhood Learning Expert: More than one-third of parents who report needing early childhood learning programs have difficulty accessing it. This disparity must be addressed as those children who can access early childhood learning programs come much better prepared for elementary school with better developed skills in reading. This expert can advise the district on how best to address meeting parents’ needs with either school-based or community-based services.

Community Schools Expert: About 24% of parents who seek school-based medical care for their children, and 48% who seek school-based mental health care for their children, have difficulty accessing it. The community schools model is one that can address many of those needs. This expert can advise the district on how best to begin a process for creating fully-resourced community schools with school-based medical and mental health care. In a pandemic a school-based medical clinic serving students and their families would be of great value. (Note: The community school models can be explored in the book Community Schools@100%.)

Mentoring and Afterschool and Out of School Expert: Many parents report needing a wide variety of youth mentoring programs, as well as afterschool and out of school activities, to nurture their children. This expert can advise the district on how best to address meeting parents’ and students’ needs with either school-based or community-based services.

Job Training Expert: Almost half of parents who reported needing job training have difficulty accessing it. With the economic downturn, business closures and joblessness, job training for parents (and all working age adults) is vital in order to provide self-sufficient households with incomes that provide access to basic services. This expert can advise the district on how best to address meeting parents’ (and young adults’) needs with either school-based or community-based job training and placement services.

This multidisciplinary task force can advise the school superintendent’s office on how best to strengthen a learning environment (both online and on site) that addresses the needs of students, parents and school staff. In many ways, the task force is guiding the entire school community through a process called continuous quality improvement (CQI), using data and a collaborative process to identify the challenges that impact public education in a pandemic.

The CQI process, using data and research to identify solutions, is outlined in the books 100% Community: Ensuring 10 Vital Services for Surviving and Thriving and Anna, Age Eight: The data-driven prevention of childhood trauma and maltreatment. Both books, by Katherine Ortega Courtney, PhD and Dominic Cappello, are guided by decades of research focused on factors for student and family success, the social determinants of health, the ecological model for health, health equity, education equity, adverse childhood experiences, family trauma, historical disparities and historical trauma.

A multidisciplinary and result-focused task force can bring new expertise to the entire school community, addressing the needs of students and their families. Amid a time of rapid change and crises, it will be taking on one of public education’s biggest challenges. It all comes back to one question. What is best for our students?

*The future is what we make it. Join the evolution.

Please excuse any typos as I construct an article at 3am on only one cup of Joe. These stories are mine and mine alone. I do not represent any organization here. If one of my illustrations looks like a real human or three-headed hydra, that’s total coincidence. Words and images ©Dominic Cappello but share with everyone you know. Questions? The Plan Forward awaits you here: www.tenvitalservices.org

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A NY Times bestselling author, social justice activist, Oprah guest, co-author of Attack of the Three-Headed Hydras, 100% Community and Anna, Age Eight.

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