Jessica: When COVID-19 hit your school district, what was the first priority finding a solution for students and how were problems identified? I know you guys are all the same school district, but I am so excited to have each of you from elementary, high school, middle school perspectives.
Amanda: I think what was great and this was district-wide, but it was really imperative. I think for our families and our community we set aside the entire first week of back to school as our deployment of devices. So that’s how we got all of our students. , originally to 12 grade, two through 12 with a device in their hands. Obviously, with social distancing, we needed to use that entire week to divide up different parts of the alphabet.
To bring students in with their families to get those devices, give them brief tutorials on what to do. And then we took it a step further. And then once we had the students walking into zoom, we spent the first two weeks with their teachers and with their classes really going through the tech piece, going through the social, emotional piece of – you haven’t been in school since March. And that was a hard pill to swallow. I think for some of our teachers because they are so passionate about their content and they do know that the students have fallen behind and they do know that they’re going to be, see their students less frequently using the schedule that we were using.
So they definitely wanted to jump into their math or their social studies or their language arts content, but they knew how important that social, emotional piece was. They knew how important it was to acclimate some of our students that aren’t tech-savvy, to those needs and to address those deficits that, that we needed to do.
So the tech was a piece, the SEL was a piece and then also meals are important for our community. We have a hundred percent of our population on free and reduced lunch. We are providing meals for our students, both breakfast and lunch on a daily basis. So we also had to come up with a plan for – how are these kids going to get meals when they’re not coming into the school? So those were kind of the three most important things. And then we could deal with the academics and the engagement piece.
Jessica: Fantastic feedback. I think that definitely speaks to the school district priority-wise because the kids needed the technologies. So you guys spent the first, you said two weeks getting what they needed into their possession and that’s important, but more so than just getting them the tech that they needed, being able to show and do tutorials on how to use it because I know at that age, most of them know, but it, sometimes it’s new and it’s learning. It’s not just watching YouTube videos all day or Sims videos and things like that. So more educational. The food is – being we’re both Ohio school districts and I’m based in Ohio, I know our school district is the same.
And that was definitely one of the first priorities that ours had as well, was getting meals to families and how they could set up. I know originally it started out with actual delivery. Our school district used school buses to actually drop off food at first, and then they were trying to figure out – we had volunteers delivering food directly to homes.
Ours now has settled on pickup times. So they have the meals prepared, same thing, lunch, breakfast, and even as far as dinners combining with our local food pantry. So is that something that Middletown similarly did? Was it based just out of the school district? Did they combine with local food pantries?
Amanda: We’ve definitely relied on local churches local community outreach to help staff that we do have our food providers Sodexo that has managed all of the, the prep and through federal aid has been able to provide those meals. We originally, when we were remote first quarter, we had kind of bus stops in various parts of the community, as well as school pickup points for families to go to.
I can’t remember the exact number, but you were pretty much within walking distance to, to a place where you could go pick up your five meals for the week. And then as we’ve transitioned into the hybrid model, we have reigned it in a little bit. A lot of it is due to volunteers and just our teachers are now teaching every day whether they have students in the classroom or remote at home.
So in terms of staffing, we’ve limited now to picking up at the schools, in a very specific window. So. We’re still doing it. We’re still making sure that our kids’ bellies are full and that our families have that resource available to them because we know that it is so critical for them.
Jessica: I definitely agree with that. For the next question, I’ll go over to Kee – as the elementary, similarly, what was the first priority from an elementary standpoint, once COVID hit, was it all the same as what Carmella and Amanda have listed? Did you guys have your own challenges at that education level?
Kee: As Carmella (*Carmella had audio issues, her portion of the interview will be posted at a later date) stated first and foremost safety for the staff and students was a primary concern. And as Amanda mentioned, social, emotional learning. To make sure we were still connected with our students and their experiences and deployment of the technology was a huge piece, but something interwoven in all that that was a higher priority. Given that she stated that we were a district of poverty is equitable access opportunity for those who aren’t fortunate enough to have opportunity and access that some of their counterparts had.
So we partnered with Verizon to ensure that not only did they have the devices, we partnered with Verizon to make sure that students who did not have wifi access receive hotspots so that they could stay connected and have the same access and opportunity that all students had in our district.
So along with social, emotional learning, making sure that they had the computers and the devices, the staff safety and student safety, equitable access to opportunity was a very high priority in elementary schools.
Jessica: That’s fantastic feedback. The getting internet connectivity is a challenge in our school district as well. That’s fantastic that Verizon was able to really help and make a big difference because I think every single one of you mentioned the social and emotional wellbeing of your students on top of safety.
I don’t know that I’ve heard a whole lot about that as how you guys have accomplished. I think that’s a really good insight and it’s important piece of schools and what they do and what they’re able to do for students is to really help students grow or socially, emotionally, how have you guys been able to do that with the remoteness of COVID-19 or what tools and resources have you guys used to make sure you’re taking care of the students in that way? I’ll start with Amanda.
Amanda: So we have a homeroom period in our traditional school day that we have had for years. We call it app it’s a 25 minute class period where our counselors put together lessons for our teachers to go through that social, emotional piece.
So that’s already been built into our curriculum. So when we built our remote schedule for when our students were at home, we still had in the middle of our school day, that app time as for counselors were still very intentional with their planning and creating remote lessons. And, and I actually stole something from Twitter.
I saw another educator somewhere in the country. Had created kind of a morning meeting slide to put up on the screen during a zoom. And I really felt that that would help frame the conversation for our students. You know, they’re not getting to sit, you know, six feet away from their classmates or, you know, two feet away from their teacher as they circulate the room and have those conversations with students.
So I thought it was nice that our counselors could have that lesson in a format that they could put up on the screen that students could then see. And it was everything from those important topics that do relate to their social, emotional wellbeing, but then also silly stuff so that they can get to know each other.
I think about, you know, I have the seventh grade class. Yes, they all came from Highview together, but they’re brand new to us. I don’t know them. Their teachers don’t know them. So just things like, you know, where would you rather go on vacation? Cruise or into, you know, camping in the mountains.
How do you like to, you know, spend your weekends? Playing video games? or outside playing sports? So everything from making sure that they’re okay just with building those relationships with their peers and with their teachers, but also some of the more important things about making sure that they’re safe and making sure that they are thriving socially.
Jessica: So Kee, you’re also shaking your head if you don’t mind unmuting. So is that accurate? Do you guys do the same thing in person as well as COVID like we are at the middle school with Amanda?
Kee: I will say the expectation changed once COVID hit all 10 schools in our district, were responsible for creating a social, emotional learning plan that would hold us accountable for ensuring that we spent a little bit more time dealing with the student experience. COVID and distance learning and remote learning seem to take the human element out of educating our students.
And we just wanted to make sure that we gave that personal touch and that human touch to the experience that our students were having. So as she stated at the beginning of our day, every day, every classroom elementary, from 8:45, 9:15 to 9:30 is our social emotional learning period.
And so the students who are at home, they can zoom in and participate and those who are face to face, they can participate. And it’s all about getting students to learn about each other personally, to share their experiences and to share their emotions and feelings. And so that we’re all connected as a family as we try to learn together.
So it’s been a priority. And I really appreciate the district, but making that a priority for our students, because otherwise it turns into basically being on a computer, getting the lesson and turning off your computer. And so we’ve added that human element to the education experience for our students that I think there’ll be better off for having.
Jessica: Absolutely. I completely agree. That is some other solutions, if you will, virtually and even school districts, I think it’s not that they don’t care about those things. It just became a challenge, right? During COVID-19 as to how do you do that and how do you keep it a priority? So I think that’s obviously fantastic for the students to have kept it a priority like that.