News and Insights
The Nation’s Schools are Redefining What it Means to Serve Students and Families
April 2, 2020
The nation’s schools have always worked in service to students and their families and embraced a broad view of their responsibilities that goes beyond academic preparation and social development. But as schools across the country sent some 55 million students home to stem the spread of the coronavirus, educators and school personnel, and the many organizations that support them, have put on full display the lengths they will go to ensure their safety and well-being, as well as their learning.
As students were sent away for an extended spring break, school districts began scrambling to line up the resources to sustain them through an uncertain period.
Attending first to the most pressing needs for many children, schools across the country continued staffing free lunch programs, handing out meals to parents each day. At hundreds of “community schools” from New York to New Mexico, the mission to surround students with support has meant opening up food pantries, supplying technology tools, having regular check-ins with students at a distance, and helping families identify available services.
They also moved to reboot learning online, just as districts in nearly every state began putting in motion plans for continued learning, and accelerating the preparation and training necessary to help teachers move their classes online. With spring break winding down in many places, and the imminent shift to online learning for perhaps the rest of the school year, districts are now working to make sure all children can access learning. To enable virtual learning for students who don’t have sufficient technology, schools like KIPP in New Jersey handed out laptops, and some school districts are working with partners to serve up lessons on public television.
Teachers have been getting their own lessons in the scramble to go digital, and a number of nonprofit organizations and commercial vendors have opened up access to high-quality digital materials and put on virtual conferences and workshops for tens of thousands of teachers to provide coaching and practical lessons. Clients like Discovery Education are working closely with some of the nation’s largest and most diverse school systems, including New York City, Fairfax County, Va., and Miami-Dade, to provide extensive teacher support for using rich digital content. Educators seasoned in developing digital materials have shared their lessons and demonstrated tools to peers far and wide.
It is clearer than ever the essential and foundational role schools play.
As Stephen Sawchuk put it so poignantly in Education Week: “Schools are the centers of communities. They provide indispensable student-welfare services, like free meals, health care, and even dentistry. They care for children while parents work. And all those services do much to check the effects of America’s economically stratified systems of employment and health care on young students.
If there could be a silver lining amid this unprecedented and tragic disruption, it has been the outpouring of appreciation for schools and teachers, and acknowledgment that their work is incredibly difficult and complex and not to be undervalued.
This crisis will undoubtedly redefine the role of schools in their communities for years to come and remind us all time and again of their importance in a civil society.
Schools and communities will need continued commitment, and sufficient resources, to carry on these essential services and ensure this generation of students’ long-term success. But we will also depend on the continued spirit of service that the nation’s schools and educators, as well as advocacy organizations and vendors, have embraced and redefined in this unprecedented emergency response.