No Child Falls Through The Cracks

No Child Falls Through The Cracks
Posted on 04/14/2020

Akron Beacon Journal 

Akron schools working to stop students from falling through cracks during pandemic 

By Jennifer Pignolet Beacon Journal Posted Apr 7, 2020 at 8:29 PM In an effort to make sure no child falls through the cracks during the COVID-19 outbreak, Akron Public Schools is launching a network of trained staff to reach out to individual students and their families. 

The district will train staff members who would normally be based at school — including nutrition workers, educational assistants or IT staff — to become connectors," whom teachers can rely on to help bring students who are struggling at home back into the fold

At least 900 students who have yet to sign into their online learning platform can expect a call in the next week, Assistant Superintendent Ellen McWilliams-Woods said. Principals and teachers will be able to ask a connector to reach out to any other student they believe needs a firmer point of contact with their school. 

Their primary role will be to link families to any resources they may need, and secondarily to help students keep up with their school work, McWilliams-Woods said

Right now, in-person school is out until at least May 1, but a handful of other states have already canceled classes for the rest of the year. 

Because of the extensive length of time away, Akron is pushing forward with learning even while students are sequestered at home. The bigger challenge becomes how to do that in a way that doesn't further exacerbate achievement gaps

The fear, in Akron and across the country, is that the students who have resources at home like WiFi, easy access to food and parents home with them during the day, will be the ones who thrive with online learning, and those who lack one or all of those will continue to be left behind. 

Our students who already have a higher percentage of barriers to learning, we cannot let them lose ground during this time period,” McWilliams-Woods said

At the same time, she said, Akron was likely far ahead of the curve of other districts with a high concentration of students who live in poverty. The district started seven years ago moving to a digital curriculum, and every student now has a Chromebook laptop to take 

home with them. Some students who didn't take theirs home before school closed mid March had theirs delivered to their homes. 

The online learning platform tracks students' activity, and so far, 95% of the district's 21,000 students have logged in at some point in the last three weeks. By the end of each day last week, about 60% to 70% of students had logged in at some point that day. All students have been marked present for the last three weeks, McWilliams-Woods said, but she expects the state will issue new guidance this week about how to proceed with taking attendance the rest of this month. 

About 75% of students in the district have reliable WiFi at home, according to surveys that are a few years old, McWilliams-Woods said. The district has encouraged families to drive to parking lots of schools, libraries or even McDonald's to access free WiFi while still practicing social distancing. The school board also approved a purchase two weeks ago of 500 WiFi hot-spot devices to distribute to students as needed

Some students, she said, have notified their teachers they were using cell phone hot-spots to conduct their work, and their data plans were running low. 

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Teachers have been instructed to be as flexible as possible during this time, she said. Work is still being graded, but is due on a weekly, not daily, basis

We've asked teachers to be obviously hugely sensitive to everything that's going on in a family's lives,” she said

Carla Chapman, the district's director of community relations, said the staff that will act as connectorscan help families get setup with WiFi or access resources through the United Way, including food and housing

“We just want to know that people are OK,Chapman said. 

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Many of those who will be connectors are staff who already have relationships with students in the building, but they may be calling students they don't know as well, depending on the need. 

We knew that there were people in schools who are not instructional but still have those relationships with students and families who could really play a role in supporting teachers in connecting with their students,” Chapman said

Schools that have family liaisons on staff have already deployed those staff members to start making calls to families. 

Parents in need can also reach out to the district's family engagement center directly at 330-761-2810. 

Contact education reporter Jennifer Pignolet at jpignolet@thebeaconjournal.com, at 330-996-3216 or on Twitter @JenPignolet.
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