CHARTER SCHOOL FAMILIES & EDUCATORS TESTIFY ON COVID-19 IMPACT ON EDUCATION
In Committee on Education Testimony, Students, Families & Educators Discussed Impact of COVID-19 on Learning & Demanded City Step Up for 135,000 Public Charter School Students
(NEW YORK, N.Y.) – Yesterday, students, families and educators from ten public charter schools across New York City testified on COVID-19’s impact on education, and how public charter schools have stepped up to provide support during the pandemic. Schools also renewed their call for the city to finally provide COVID-19 testing to public charter schools, during the Council’s Committee on Education public hearing.
Schools that participated include: Success Academy, New Visions, Opportunity Charter Schools, Inwood Academy for Leadership Charter School, Uncommon Charter Schools, Brilla Charter Schools, KIPP, VOICE Charter School, Democracy Prep, and Bedford Stuyvesant New Beginnings.
Last week, nearly 300 charter school leaders representing 194 public charter schools signed a letter to Mayor de Blasio demanding the DOE to immediately include all of the City’s public charter schools in its testing program to ensure that students can return to classrooms and school buildings safely.
Excerpts Included Below & Full Written Testimony Available Upon Request:
While the COVID-19 crisis has affected virtually every aspect of how we do things at Brilla, it has not altered our commitment to support families in educating their children. After closing buildings in mid-March, we continued to honor all components of our holistic mission. We reached every single one of our 921 students and maintained daily attendance rates of over90%. In order for all students to have access to the tools they needed to continue learning, we distributed some 750 Chromebook and 300 hotspot devices. With our learning specialists’ creativity and the DOE’s remotely delivering counseling and therapies, we continued to support all students, with extra attention given to our special populations which constitute more than half of our student-body.
COO, Brilla Public Charter Schools
Like the rest of the schools in the city, the sudden onset of school closures threw our school network into a situation we had never previously experienced. However, it has also given us a chance to reinforce successful systems that promote scholar achievement.
Across our schools, we have increased communication with families, made paper materials available for pick up, and provided technology and tech support to increase virtual engagement. We are still committed to supporting scholars who need extra help to master skills. We use virtual learning for remediation, including small-group instruction. Every grade level has remediation built into their school schedule. This includes office hours, prescheduled tutoring, and creative supports for our scholars who receive speech and/or counseling services. Social-emotional learning is still a priority for our network. Our schools have virtual town halls (school-wide meetings) that build community. Now even family members are able to join!
VP of External Affairs, Democracy Prep Public Schools
All of my children attend school remotely and were able to receive devices and a hot spot which was not easy because charter schools were not included in the allotment for all public-school students. Uncommon is doing what they can to persevere and continue to educate their students throughout this pandemic and as I parent, I will do all that I can to support my children and keep them safe. Uncommon is beginning to open schools for in-person learning between 1/20-1/25 because they know how important it is for our children to be in school learning with their teachers and classmates – there is nothing that can replace this. I can tell you firsthand that my children miss and need it and as a parent so do I. In-person instruction is what is best no matter the age or grade of the child, but it has to be safe, responsible and equitable. All schools need equitable support, resources and funding as well. I am asking that City Council does all that they can to ensure that ALL children and ALL schools have what they need so to that we can ALL re-open safely.
School is a place of comfort and refuge for so many children and we have to reopen them safely for all children. As a staff member I know first-hand how hard all of our staff are working every day to deliver the high-quality education we promised to our students. This has been especially challenging because as charter schools we have been left to figure out how to provide devices, support, training, and remote education platforms to provide this education, From a health and safety standpoint we were also left out of testing and tracing as well as daily symptom tracking. Being left out of all of these critical components which enable us to educate and keep all children safe continues to add to the disparities in the black and brown communities that most charters serve. This is not a time for us to turn our backs on our schools, staff, and our children.
Parent & Student Recruitment Coordinator
I am in the 6th grade of Bedford Stuyvesant New Beginnings Charter School and I am 11 years old. I am a member of our schools Student Government Association. In SGA we provide a place where students are not judged and an area you can be you. We also feel safe and we can express our feelings. I would like to focus on the emotional impact COVID – 19 has had on my learning and academic achievement. If I am frank, the impact of COVID – 19 has been very heavy. You might wonder how my online learning has impacted my academic success. Well, I don’t like it as much as I would if it were going into the school building. With my homework, I get really overwhelmed and I don’t always get my class assignments right. But the toughest thing is when I have to deal with things out of my control like “lag out”.
Aletty A. Portalatin
We launched our remote program the day after our buildings’ closure in March. Thanks to our staff’s outreach efforts and the distribution of hundreds of chromebooks and thousands of books from our library, every single VOICE student has been engaged in remote learning. As the families we serve live in some of the city’s areas that were most severely impacted by COVID, our Social Work team has expanded their services to offer remote grief counseling, family outreach, advisory groups, and clubs to students and their families above and beyond their IEP-mandated counseling. Since the spring we have distributed thousands of care packages to families to support learning and health at home.
We have prioritized student engagement throughout our virtual program by simplifying processes and selecting high-interest content and activities. Our other priority is equity; we have structured our resources and curriculum to ensure that students who typically struggle with remote instruction (students with IEPs, English language learners, those without consistent supervision or access at home) receive as much extra support as possible. This summer, we renewed our commitments to anti-racism, partnering with equity consultants to implement audits, staff workshops, coaching, and strategic planning through this school year and beyond.
Founder & Principal, VOICE Charter School
At our school we came up with an idea to give a survey to see how stressed kids were on remote learning. Out of 177 students, most said they are very stressed! So this is honestly something a lot of students are definitely feeling!
Can this committee help? I think so! To help with the stress being generated schools need some more money to hire a full time therapist. I also believe that schools should get more money to enter some more workshops on how to relieve stress for some students like myself.
Inwood Academy has worked together as a school community to combat the pandemic by supporting our families and staff to provide the best possible education during this time. The very first thing we ensured is the safety of our families. During the first two weeks of March school leadership monitored the situation closely and prepared staff in a very basic way by telling them to create google classrooms for every subject and class that they taught and to enroll and get students to accept these classrooms. We didn’t know what a big deal this would be but it proved to be extremely helpful just two weeks later…
The entire summer was spent planning for our return in the Fall. Several factors led to the school choosing a remote only option for instruction. The school surveyed staff and students and results showed that many staff would qualify for medical exemptions and that many families (around 50%) would opt for remote instruction. In addition, the city denied COVID19 testing to charter schools. A lack of regular COVID19 testing was sited as a reason both staff and families would feel unsafe to enter the building. The school was able to provide a five-day Family Support Center (FSC) to support families who could not or did not want to leave their children at home or preferred to have their children learning in a school building. Close to 100 students came to school every day. They were put into pods and were assigned two staff members per pod. The pod leaders kept students focused on their classes and ensured they finished their assignments. They also took them outside for walks or to the park to get fresh air and move their bodies. Over time, the FSC became an intervention strategy for students who were not signing into classes or were missing large numbers of assignments. Parents began to trust this on-site resource. While we had to close the FSC when rates began to rise in mid-November, the school is now working on a plan to reopen it soon.
CEO, Inwood Academy for Leadership Charter School