Originally published May 31st, 2020 in the Greater Park Hill News
Connection, Inclusion, Commitment To Students And Pride In Community Are All Critical For Success
By Park Hill Neighbors
For Equity In Education
Park Hill Neighbors for Equity in Education (PHNEE) believes that building awareness can motivate the community to improve equity among our neighborhood elementary schools. PHNEE thus finds it critical that we understand and share the realities our schools face, particularly during this challenging time.
Towards that end, PHNEE connected with leaders and teachers in Greater Park Hill’s four elementary schools (Hallett Academy, Smith Elementary, Stedman Elementary and Park Hill Elementary) to ask about the rapid transition to remote instruction and what it has meant for all impacted.
In sharing the schools’ responses with you, PHNEE hopes to build upon our two most-recent columns that appeared in these pages. We recognize that the powerful words of those living through experiences are in some ways better advocacy tools than anything we’ve ever endeavored to write on behalf of Park Hill’s schools.
Relevant, Meaningful Information
Last month, we described how the coronavirus pandemic presents an opportunity for more meaningful school assessment. We noted that DPS could use more relevant and meaningful metrics – instead of only standardized test scores – to assess schools and share that information with parents.
Responses to our questions about the transition to remote learning provide precisely this type of information. Despite the fact that the School Performance Framework portrays Greater Park Hill’s schools very differently, all of the schools’ responses revealed five positive themes in terms of what they are providing to students and families. These themes, which DPS could incorporate in a new school assessment tool, include connection, commitment to students, acceptance and inclusion, and pride in the school community.
The novel, urgent and unplanned nature of the transition to remote learning has in some cases created new connections and strengthened existing ones between schools and their enrolled families. On a daily basis, teachers are reaching out to students in virtual class settings, but also reaching parents and students individually by phone, text, email, FaceTime and Zoom.
Connecting with students in their home also creates a deeper understanding of the lives students lead outside of schools. Teachers are connecting to other teachers as well, with communication opportunities facilitated by leadership.
Teachers are demonstrating their tremendous dedication to reaching and connecting with every student. Their efforts have included safely meeting with families outside of their homes, personally delivering materials and supplies to families, and providing technology training and lessons to families.
One response noted, “teachers have RISEN to the challenge,” while another described teachers as “heroes working incredible hours and going beyond the call of duty to help families.” Schools are helping families with social-emotional needs, and for some families, schools have provided resource pathways for needs like food and clothing.
Acceptance and Inclusion
Remote learning has also required schools and teachers to respectfully meet families and students where they are. Because every family’s learning situation is different, any amount of effort and participation is accepted and openly appreciated.
As families and students have faced a learning curve with technology, teachers have adjusted their academic instruction so as to not overwhelm students. Students are also given the flexibility to go at their own pace, and in some instances are performing better. Listening and problem solving have made it possible to offer individually-tailored responses to families’ needs.
Pride in the School Community
Despite the tremendous challenge of rapidly transitioning instruction to an online platform, all responses conveyed a sense of pride in the schools’ communities of leaders, teachers and parents, working together to accomplish this feat. Teachers praised leaders for their understanding, as well as families for surmounting the obstacles on their end. Teachers are proud of their students. One has watched an entire class move forward academically, calling it “amazing.”
Embracing a Community Mindset
In our April column, we described how the coronavirus pandemic should remind Greater Park Hill neighbors that a community-mindset is a powerful tool for delivering all children an equitable education and opportunities to thrive.
Schools’ responses to open-ended questions concerning what they need and what they wish for the community to understand about this “new normal” provide us with direct, specific information concerning what we can advocate for today and in the coming months.
Schools want to see teachers and families have reliable, consistent internet access, adequate technological resources, and technological support. For example, one laptop cannot suffice for a family with multiple children, and families have questions about technology. Similarly, the online platforms that teachers are using have weaknesses. Teachers sometimes cannot see the children, and children struggle to see one another.
Teachers also need access to social-emotional training and resources to better understand how they can assist their students. One response noted that those who already struggled in school – for multiple reasons – continue to struggle and will fall further behind unless they receive additional support.
Can you help?
With so many sectors of society in need, it can be overwhelming to decide where to focus one’s energy. PHNEE asks that you remember our neighborhood schools if you are looking for a way to help. If you would like assistance finding a way that you can support our neighborhood’s schools during the pandemic, please contact us at info@PHNEE.org.
Park Hill Neighbors For Equity In Education (PHNEE.org) is an organization of local advocates working toward diversity, equity, and inclusion in all schools in Greater Park Hill. Past columns can be read via their website and at greaterparkhill.org.