April 10, 2020

Covid Conversations: Antonelli Mejia

Antonelli Mejia is a principal fellow in Boston Public Schools. Recently, he sat down with E4E-Boston Executive Director Sarah Iddrissu to discuss what it’s been like leading a school through this difficult transition, and why he thinks more needs to be done to ensure educator and student voices are included in planning the eventual transition back to opening up schools.

A transcript of the conversation’s highlights can be found below:

SI: Walk me through the transition from your regular classroom to remote learning.

AM: It’s been different and new as I know it has been for everyone. We didn’t transition to online learning because we wanted to. The admin team has been thinking about how we support educators in this transition. The first thing we wanted to prioritize is how we ensure the well-being and safety of students and their families, and make sure they have access to technology, shelter, and food. Now that we know they are safe, we are engaging in conversations about how we do activities and learning and rigor online. That’s sort of the process, we take care of students’ immediate needs first, now we are engaging in what remote learning looks like and ensuring it is done with quality.

SI: How are your students doing emotionally? 

AM: My students, families, and teachers, and we as the admin have been struggling with this quick transition. A lot of our students are forced to adjust to this new normal of being home, and many of them are struggling. One way to connect with them is by checking in via our specialist teachers like our dance teachers, our P.E. teachers to host live sessions with the kids where they can do something that is fun. This helps create a balance between the academic activities as well as the physical movement that we know has an impact on their emotional health.

SI: How are your students doing academically? How is this impacting their learning?

AM: I believe that this is going to have a long-lasting impact on our students academically, especially the students already receiving interventions that they no longer have access to. As a school, we’re trying to do our best and also go above and beyond to connect with families. We understand that academically-speaking some of our students need parent support. I think the credit for where things have been going well goes to teachers who are shifting the conversations from completing tasks to really engaging with a rigorous activity. They are doing their planning in a way that promotes student learning through engaging with a critical thinking process. I remain hopeful that even at this time our students and teachers are working together, even though it looks different.

SI: When school reopens we are hearing that student mental health and learning will need to be restored. What do you want decision-makers to do in order to first get our students ready to learn psychologically and to ensure that learning loss is recovered? Please offer solutions to decision-makers that you would like to see for your students. 

AM: Not just as an educator and education leader, but as a community member I have been considering my youngest sibling who is in first grade. I was thinking this morning about my brother who has been sleeping in more than normal, and having so much access to a screen, and not having the social support he’s used to. So I have been thinking a lot about how this crisis will have a direct impact on our students, our teachers, our community members, our families. I want us to collaborate and communicate with each other and with the city and state to identify the supports we are all going to need emotionally, physically, and academically. 

I say this because I want to make sure that these voices are at the table when policies are made to best support the transition. This is just an additional layer to the challenges and struggles that we had on a daily basis even before this was our new reality. We had students reading below grade level, had students with different learning disabilities, had students with different language needs. Even if we don’t have an immediate answer, I want to make sure that when it is time to start thinking about this that we are inviting the voices of all the stakeholders being impacted by this to identify the best solutions to ensure this transition is successful and supportive for everyone.

SI: What are some ways that decision-makers can hear directly from educators about how to reopen schools that might be beneficial?

AM: There are virtual meetings and convenings that are happening, but there has to be an even greater sense of urgency to want to hear from these communities. We need to create a system where educators can provide feedback to policies and recommendations, and can even make recommendations for what those guidelines to be implemented will be from the district and state. I think that if we as educators have direct experiences with shaping what that new reality will be as we recover and adjust our practices, we will be better off.