In March, Educators for Excellence-Boston educators used virtual organizing to keep advocating for their students during the coronavirus pandemic, sharing testimony during an online Boston School Committee Meeting. Just weeks later, they made the leap to leading their own virtual forum.
Over 40 participants attended E4E-Boston’s virtual town hall TEACH-IN: Equity and Excellence During and After COVID-19 on April 17. Participants included Chair of the Massachusetts Joint Education Committee Sen. Jason Lewis, and Boston City Councilors Kenzie Bok, Andrea Campbell, and Michelle Wu. The event featured five Boston Public Schools educators as panelists and was focused on elevating teacher leadership and sharing solutions on three main topics.
How To Increase Engagement with Distance Learning
Panelists shared their schools’ respective engagement rates, which ranged from as low as 30% to around 98%. Educators identified that lack of access to stable internet, language barriers, and needing to work at jobs to support their families all kept students from fully participating in distance learning.
Panelist Francis Pina, a math teacher at Charlestown High School has found that recording instructions, whether through audio or video, is helpful for students. Additionally, Katie Caster, a science teacher at the Perry School said there is an opportunity to create a diversity of access points for different learners. “I’m trying to stretch myself to think beyond the screen -- passion projects, hands-on projects at home, self-guided curriculum. I’m trying to think more broadly about what remote learning really means.”
Daniela Morin, a cluster substitute at the Eliot School urged colleagues to assume best intentions of students and their families who aren’t fully engaging with distance learning. “Students want to learn, but maybe there are structural barriers that are prohibiting them from accessing the resources that they need. This is especially true for students who already come from a marginalized background or have more barriers to their learning.”
Supports for Student Mental Health During and After the Pandemic
Panelist Joellen Persad, a science teacher at Madison Park Technical and Vocational High School, urged fellow educators to find ways of connecting with students about their grief. Every week Joellen and her co-teacher send out a survey on how students are doing. “We are finding that they’re so unclear about what is happening with school. ‘When are we coming back? What is happening with grades?’ Yes, they’re resilient, but the unknown and lack of answers is what’s causing anxiety, and now we have the information of where to target our mental health support.”
Caroline Ballou, an ESL teacher at East Boston High, called for educators to pay special attention to students like seniors who are losing out on rites of passage they have looked forward to for years. “Every day, they are asking me ‘What is happening with prom and what about graduation?’ ‘Wait, do I have to do summer school?’” Caroline said sometimes all you need to do is be honest and share in the confusion, but stress that you will work together to figure it out.
Teachers’ Ideas to Ensure a Successful Return to School
At the end of the event, E4E-Boston teachers shared a set of ideas worth exploring that will minimize learning loss and support student mental health when schools reopen:
- Ascertain Level of Learning Loss: ensure all students take non-punitive diagnostic and interim assessments to find out where they are in math and reading
- Keep Up Technology Access: ensure students continue to have access to Chromebooks
- Summer Academies: have students attend summer programs to recover learning loss
- Loop Teachers: have educators move on to the next grade with their students to ensure they can start the next school year with increased trust and knowledge about each student
- Comprehensive Mental Health Data: collect and track information about student traumatic experiences during quarantine (i.e. parents lost job, family death etc)
- Trauma Training for Educators: train all educators to facilitate open and honest conversations about COVID with all students