These are strange, amazing and challenging times – toilet paper aside, we’ll be talking about the Spring of 2020 for decades to come. Like most people, I find myself wondering how COVID-19 will affect not only our immediate future but life as we know it for the long-term. I suspect we’re standing on the cusp of transformational changes in how we live, work and learn.
As an Engagement Specialist working with public schools, I’m interested in looking past the chaos to the opportunities COVID-19 has created for school districts. Adapting nearly overnight to serve their students virtually in response to social distancing and stay-at-home orders, school districts across the country have been given not just a spotlight but a megaphone to showcase all that they do to support students, families and communities as a whole.
People who may not typically be engaged with their local schools are suddenly tuned-in and paying attention. They are listening, watching and learning about the vast array of the services, resources and care that schools provide for our kids.
For hundreds of thousands of students, school is where they get two of their three meals a day. Recognizing this crucial need, many rural, suburban and urban districts around the country are finding innovative ways to continue providing consistent, nutritious meals for their students. These meals meet a critical need for many families, which has been surprising for people previously unaware of the significant role our schools play in feeding students every single day.
For many students, school is a safe haven. One of the gravest concerns of educators is the safety, protection and well-being of students who suffer neglect or other abuse at home. While it may be surprising that reports of domestic violence are down during the first weeks of social distancing, many suspect that this is likely a result of students not being around teachers who are required by law to report suspicion of abuse or neglect.
Special Programs and Services
Many parents are quickly learning that teaching math to a second grader is no easy task (especially “new math”!). The gap between at-home and in-school learning is even more critical for those with special needs. According to the National Center for Education Services, more than 7 million students, or 14% of all students in U.S public schools, receive some sort of special education services. The truth is that many of those services are difficult, if not impossible, to replicate without the in-person, hands-on support of a trained expert.
In addition to special education services, schools serve as the conduit to mental and emotional health services to millions of students every year.
As a result of COVID-19, our society is in the midst of a transformation; nowhere is that more evident than within our schools. Now is a unique opportunity for school districts to build long-lasting trust and good will with all stakeholders by highlighting the countless ways they serve, teach and protect students, families and communities every day. Recently, a photo of a math teacher helping his student through the screen on the front door of her house went viral. Imagine if that was one of your math teachers! Your educators are likely already going above and beyond and people need to see it; they are craving stories like these. Ask your teachers, students and families to help you catch those incredible moments and use social media to highlight the individuals going the extra mile to help their students – or their students’ parents – navigate our current reality. Reach out to local reporters with story ideas and offer to help connect them with your staff or families. Watch and listen for examples of success, kindness and community spirit to share with your stakeholders, you may be surprised how many you find.
My advice to school district is simple: tell your real story. Tell it loudly, visually and with pride. You are all doing amazing work and we thank you. Perhaps now more than ever, your community is listening.