#4: Responding To A Crisis — Krista Patrick-Brown, Executive Director of ARISE Academy — A Series Documenting How New Orleans Educators and Schools Are Reacting To COVID-19

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This is the fourth 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 Krista Patrick-Brown, Executive Director of ARISE Academy.

Cowen Institute: How are you communicating with students and families since school closures began?

Patrick-Brown: Since closures began, we have been communicating with students and families in various ways. Individual phone calls, robocalls, texts, ClassDojo, and emails have been the main forms of communication. We have also taken advantage of our social media outlets, particularly our Instagram (@arise_newday), and we also have a new YouTube page with daily morning announcements. We are finding that parents can ask and have questions answered pretty easily and quickly via social media.

How often are you reaching out to them?

We have shared daily morning announcements via social media and send out once to twice weekly emails. Staff members are each assigned a group of students and their families to personally check in weekly, and we record this information to track any needs of families. Now that virtual learning is up and running, Google Classroom has been a welcomed addition to our communication stream.

What supports and assistance are you providing to students and families currently?

This is the area I am most proud of during this time as it relates to the core of our mission. In collaboration with schools across the city, we are participating in the twice weekly community feeding program, which has allowed us to distribute upwards of 4,000 meals on a recent day. Our team worked diligently to deliver supplies and Chromebooks via buses in the early days of closure and continues to make technology available for pick up to families that need it. Tele-services for speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and counseling have been made available for students with disabilities whose parents consent. Our social worker has connected with families who are facing unemployment, housing uncertainty, or food scarcity. Additionally our ELL families are in constant communication with our ELL Coordinator for any additional needs. Teachers have also gone above and beyond to make themselves available during scheduled office hours and individual times that work for families.

What type of school work are students completing while at home?

For the first few weeks of closure, our team distributed hard copy packets for each subject. Students completed these and are holding onto them for collection at a later date when it is safe to do so. This past week we began full virtual learning to increase our level of support to students and ensure our staff and families eliminate the need for unnecessary contact. Students in Kindergarten through 4th grade have assignments in Zearn, Learning A-Z, and Science A-Z with weekly office hours for questions and support with their teachers. Students in grades 5 through 8 are working almost entirely in Google Classroom with pre-recorded and some live teacher mini lessons for new content. Teach to One (TTO) is being used for middle school math learning as well. Students in all grades are completing most work independently with support during office hours and lesson time. Students with disabilities are receiving additional support virtually per their individualized education plans (IEPs). We have also been in contact with families who have moved out of the area during this time but have not been able to enroll at a school in their new district or state. Our team is creating distance learning care packages to mail to them, so they can continue learning.

How will remote student work be assessed (if at all)?

This is something we are still finalizing as policies are being adapted during this time. Currently, we are tracking student participation and work completion (both physical packets and virtual work). We are thoughtfully considering how to best assess students and honor their hard work, while also being equitable and understanding, as each of our families are facing varied challenges that may keep students from working to their fullest potential as they would in a regular classroom setting.

How are you planning for the possibility that schools are closed for the rest of the year?

We are taking it one day at a time and gathering feedback from our staff, students, and families. We implemented virtual learning with the intention that we could utilize these structures long term through the end of the year if needed and for the future. We are hopeful that if school is closed through the end of the year that we may still be open for summer in-person programming to help fill the gaps of any lost learning during this time, but we know this may not happen. Our goal is to continue distance learning the best way we can and then to think long-term about how we will need to support all students differently at the start of the next school year.

What are you hearing from families right now that are their biggest challenges or needs?

Health concerns, financial stability, mental health, and access to technology are some of the biggest challenges we have heard from families.

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?

These concerns are valid for our students and families as well as for our staff and will be ongoing through the end of this event and unfortunately into the future. We are really grateful to have a full-time school psychologist and school social worker who have consistently been in contact with the students and families that team members have flagged as needing additional support. These staff members, Dr. Lilia Trevizo and Mrs. Rhia Biagas, recently incorporated some best practices into our staff Google Hangouts meeting last week and have turned these tips into family-facing information that we have shared on our social media. In addition to that, we have shared resources with families as they become available to us. This area is certainly something we will continue to keep as top priority through extended closure, and all schools in New Orleans are going to have to strategically plan for how to best welcome back and support students emotionally when we return in the fall.

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The mission of the Cowen Institute is to advance public education and youth success in New Orleans and beyond.

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