As the we continue to confront the collective and unprecedented trauma during the COVID-19 crisis , understanding the impact trauma has on the ability of children to learn is more important than ever. We have seen that trauma-sensitive schools are uniquely positioned to understand the impact the pandemic is having on students. This understanding intensifies the importance of providing students with meaningful lessons that not only keep them engaged in learning, but also keep them connected to their supportive school and caring teachers during this global crisis.
In an effort to learn more about how trauma-sensitive schools are doing their work, we interviewed several experts and school leaders and asked them how they are applying the trauma lens to today’s time of crisis. These educators shared the questions that they use to guide their COVID-19 response and how they are addressing their most urgent priorities in trauma-sensitive and culturally responsive ways. We shared their questions and thoughts in an earlier blog and our feedback was that many would like to delve deeper into the questions that were raised. Over the next few days we will be resending the questions and now that we are further along in the process of remote learning, asking our learning community to let us know what is working and what is not.
Question #1 How can we connect as an urgent matter to ALL of our students/families to make sure they are safe, have needed resources and maintain strong connections with school staff?
Connecting with every family has been a primary goal of trauma-sensitive educators during these first few weeks of the pandemic. As one school leader stated, the first goal is to find all the families. She stated, “we are using whatever means possible and we’re not stopping until we make contact with every family in the district.” As she points out, the crisis is highlighting the ways existing structural inequities can increase the vulnerability of those families who may already face housing instability, job loss, food insecurity, an inability to maintain social distance due to space considerations, and the impacts of health disparities, including co-morbid illnesses. This makes even more urgent the need to reach every family, as school can be both a connector to resources that can help with basic needs and meet the urgent need for students and families to continue to feel that they belong to a caring school community. Maintaining ongoing frequent and regular contact after finding the family will not only strengthen relationships with students, but help to ensure students are looking forward to return. It also enables schools to continue to play a critical role in the broader safety net.
School leaders described the many ways staff are maintaining connections with families. Some schools’ staff went to students’ homes when they had not heard back from families, hand delivering packets and Chromebooks to make sure students have access. Other districts organized teachers, paraprofessionals and specialists to do outreach, dividing up classroom lists among them with the goal of reaching every family in the district. Various schools have carefully selected the person most connected to each family to reach out to them. One district had already expanded its central Family Welcome Center to approximately eight parent support specialists, and also placed staff in family engagement centers in seven schools. Both central and school-based staff at these Centers have become essential to its efforts to reach out to connect with all families. Educators are using multiple modes for communicating with families: text, email, telephone, mail, virtual meetings through on-line platforms, as well as whatever else the districts have in place for parent-teacher communication. As we spoke to trauma-sensitive educators they emphasized the importance of being flexible and sensitive to the families’ needs by asking how they prefer to stay in touch, and the time of day and frequency per week that works best for them, establishing a structure for ongoing communication several times a week. In addition to regular communications with families, a trauma-sensitive middle-high school sends a daily email survey asking its students: 1) are you able to access your work? 2) are there any unmet family needs? 3) are you having any issues with your internet connection/access?
Language Access The need for close partnership and collaboration with families during the crisis has been cause for these schools to redouble efforts to connect and communicate in the language of the home. The educators explained that schools that have already developed a structure for connecting with non-English-speaking families are benefitting from that foundational work. One district used funding to access Language Line Solutions which allows teachers to leave a message in the families’ home languages. This district has also established a multi-language Hotline where district staff respond within 24 hours to a question that a parent raises.
We invite you to share in the comments section below your successes and challenges with connecting to ALL of your students/families to make sure they are safe, have needed resources and maintain strong connections with school staff.
Please read our next blog post which asks: As we plan and implement remote learning, how do we support families to help their students learn at home?