Jess Pablo is an early childhood coach and grade level chair at The Primary School, a non-profit school in East Palo Alto, California, that serves children aged pre-K through grade 3, bringing together education, health, and family support services to support children’s holistic growth. Below are some of the ideas, concerns, and suggestions she shared as her program resumes this year in a mostly virtual learning environment.
For our ECE families, we offered several choices.
We’re also offering a pilot class for children whose parents are unable to stay home with them during the day. We have three teachers working with five students in the ECE program, as well as a few older students. The teachers help the older children set up their iPads and log in to their work, and then monitor them throughout the day.
Each of our virtual classrooms has roughly 16 students with two teachers, so often the head teacher will take ten children and the associate will take the other six.
Last year was the first year we had the whole school using CLASS, so we all received coaching and training on how to support children and strengthen interactions in each dimension. Prior to that, only half the school used CLASS. Adopting CLASS gave us all something to focus on and grow into. We’re proud that one of our strengths as a school is our teacher-child interactions.
It was really helpful to have time over the summer to plan ahead, so that now we can provide children and families with consistent expectations. This year, everyone is logging on to school at nine o'clock. We have more uniform expectations for families as well.
We also supply home kits. When we started, we asked our families what would be most helpful, and they asked for packets. So we’ve sent home some packets, as well as gross motor, fine motor, social-emotional, and literacy activities. Each day, children can complete one page in the packet and do one activity in the home kit.
It’s good to plan for whole group, small group, and individualized instruction. Teachers should set up a time to meet with each child at least once a week, even if the meeting is virtual. If a teacher notices that a child needs a little more support, they should have this meeting twice a week instead.
Every family in the program is assigned a family coach. The coach helps them access resources and work through whatever challenges they may have going on in their lives, from needing food or shelter to just needing someone to talk to when they feel like there’s too much going on. That way, it's not just the children receiving services, but also the families. The family coach can model adult-child interactions for families, answering questions like “How do I talk to my child? How do I sing to them? How do I read to them?”
If a child isn’t engaging in learning, the family coach will also be able to provide support. They’ll be able to ask, “What do you need, Mom and Dad, so that your child can come to school?”
We’ve also offered online office hours. Parents often log on during these office hours to share what's working well and bounce ideas off each other.
We’ve always been big on not only our classroom families, but also our school family. Before COVID-19, we would often have school assemblies and explore places like the office and the kitchen, to show the students that we’re all in this together. This is our community. So our returning students already had an understanding of what it meant to be a part of this community. For our new students, starting the year off on the playground has allowed us also to introduce the school, the staff, and the teachers, and to begin building that sense of community.
We're remote, and it's hard. It's so hard! But I think we all have that same passion. So we’ve just channeled it into remote learning and making the best of what we have. And we lean on each other, too.
Shared physical presence is a large part of how we’re used to connecting with each other. Strong connections and relationships are important for children who may have recently experienced loss, high stress, or trauma. As teachers connect with children in a virtual setting, it can be more challenging to think about how to create a safe space for learning, sharing experiences, and taking risks.
As a CDA with CLASS facilitator, I now recognize that CLASS also helps us think about how we can be present and responsive in supporting the curiosity, engagement, and persistence of adult learners.
I am blessed to be able to support CDA learners, many of whom are returning to formal education for the first time in many years. Some of these learners come from previous educational experiences that were not supportive, that left them feeling that they weren’t good at school or weren’t competent students. But with the right support, these learners can grow their persistence as well as their sense of competence and confidence.
Data from the National Survey of Students’ Health (NSCH) indicates that almost half of the students in the United States have experienced one or more forms of serious trauma, such as poverty, homelessness, or abuse and neglect. This means that an estimated 35,000,00 students, from infancy through age 17 are at risk for not only school failure, but for a number of social-emotional and physical complications (e.g., PTSD, heart disease, etc.) that may have life-long consequences to their health and well-being. The effect of COVID-19 has surely increased the percentage of young people who are experiencing trauma. And while people of all races and socioeconomic statuses have been affected by COVID-19, poor communities of color have been disproportionately impacted, adding an additional level of trauma to a population already traumatized by systemic racism.
Calvary City Academy & Preschool closed on March 13, along with most programs in Florida. While closed, we had much to prepare for reopening. While children were home, we prepared packets to send home, met with children virtually, and even hosted things like field day, spirit week, and graduation virtually! Even with those successes, we were so happy to be able to return to being in-person when we reopened in June. Since June, we’ve learned a lot. Here’s what’s working for us: