#3: Responding To A Crisis — Dr. Steve Corbett, Principal of Lusher High School — A Series Documenting How New Orleans Educators and Schools Are Reacting To COVID-19
This is the third in a series of interviews and Q&As conducted by the Cowen Institute with New Orleans educators to highlight how schools are managing with the current COVID-19 outbreak.
This is an edited Q&A email exchange with Dr. Steve Corbett, Principal of Lusher High School.
Cowen Institute: How are you communicating with students and families since school closures began?
Corbett: At Lusher High School we communicate regularly with students and families through weekly communications, video messages, video conferencing, social media posts, phone calls and daily teacher communication. While communication is critical in these moments, we also recognize that over-communicating can become overwhelming. We strive to be consistent and concise.
How often are you reaching out to them?
We use consistent methods of communication so that families and students know when to expect information. A weekly communication is sent every Sunday that helps outline the upcoming week, and daily communication is provided as needed depending on circumstances. In an effort not to overwhelm families, we have asked teachers to communicate more minimally through digital platforms so students and families can better organize information provided.
What supports and assistance are you providing to students and families currently?
We continue to offer our typical assistance and supports, albeit through digital platforms. Our Student Support Team continues to identify and target needed student and family supports, our Special Education Team continues to provide services, our Counseling Department continues to guide students through scheduling and college access, and our mental health counselors continue to reach out and connect with students as needed. We also offer technical assistance and food distribution.
What type of school work are students completing while at home?
At Lusher High School, we are committed to ensuring that there is continuity of learning, culture, and support. We are also committed to ensuring that the mental health and well-being of our students and families are prioritized at this time. Teachers are facilitating learning activities that are both meaningful and manageable, no more than 30–45 minutes a day per class (3–4 classes per day). Many students and families simply don’t have the capacity to operate in a mode of learning that stretches hours into the day. Compassion and flexibility underpin our approach.
How will remote student work be assessed (if at all)?
Teachers will continue to assess students in an authentic manner, while understanding that their methods of assessment may need to be restructured. We believe it is important to continue to assess our students so that a continuity of learning exists, and we remain connected to our students while we are away from school. Maintaining a connection to students and families is important, and authentically assessing students during this time helps provide a structure to do that.
How are you planning for the possibility that schools are closed for the rest of the year?
Our faculty and staff are working under the assumption that we may not return. We recognize the need to be planned for the remainder of the school year. We are analyzing and assessing all end of the year activities and discussing methods in which to deliver such activities in the event schools remains closed.
What are you hearing from families right now that are their biggest challenges or needs?
Many of our families are experiencing higher rates of stress and anxiety due to illness, death in the family, social isolation, and economic uncertainty. We recognize that mental health and well-being must be the priority for all our families. We have a robust mental health program at Lusher High School and are leveraging our resources to support families and students during this time. We have partnered with LSU’s Department of Psychology to develop a needs assessment, create counseling videos, offer virtual counseling sessions, and provide mental health resources as needed.
Coronavirus has been a stressful experience for many people in the New Orleans community. People are concerned about the health of their loved ones and the financial security of their families. Is there anything that schools can do to provide emotional support to students and families?
One of the most important things schools can do is to continue to create opportunities for the community to connect during this time. We have asked teachers to utilize Google Meet video conferencing to ensure social connection, and we conduct a virtual assembly each week. We’ve maintained spirit competitions and create social opportunities each week to keep morale high. We understand that if spirits remain high and social connectivity continues, then issues of mental health and well-being will be minimized. When issues do surface, schools should utilize their existing support structures to counsel families and students as needed.