Steering through the COVID-19 crisis in Springfield

Back in March, when the dangerous spread of the coronavirus forced schools to close, the Springfield Public School system focused on human needs.

“We know that our schools are much more than education centers for our families. They provide important support and we know that closure will impact on our families,” the Springfield, Mass., public school website explained. 

“Springfield’s first priority was the safety and well-being of all our students and families,” Julie Donovan, Springfield’s City Connects Program Manager says. That meant focusing on the essential basics of food and housing and on keeping kids virtually connected to school.

So Springfield’s 28 City Connects Coordinators got to work. They reached out to families who weren’t responding to teachers, and they helped children living in homeless shelters get laptops and Internet hotspots. 

In addition: “We were really trying to make sure that students who had been referred for counseling continued with counseling through telehealth,” Donovan says. “And we’re working with an organization called ACTS tutoring to keep kids connected to their tutors.” 

Not surprisingly, coordinators are spending a lot of time on Zoom. Some sit in on virtual classes, and, while the teacher teaches, the coordinator helps reinforce academic skills. Other coordinators attend Zoom team meetings with faculty and staff. 

“We really try to support teachers who are on the front lines of making remote learning succeed. The teachers at the various buildings have appreciated the work we are doing to try to remain connected with the students. This involves an ‘all hands on deck’ approach. 

“We all wish we could see all of our students. And the coordinators report how excited they are to join in on the Zoom calls. The smiles and laughter is what makes their day.” 

Coordinators are also using Zoom to run social skills groups for students and to set up transition groups. As Donovan explains: 

“Coordinators are starting to facilitate small groups of fifth grade students who are moving along to the next grade. During these groups, the coordinators will discuss the expectations of middle school, ways to organize the workload, and ways to cope that students can cope with their anxieties around this transition.” 

Donovan is using the ongoing school closures to forge stronger bonds among the coordinators. The usual monthly meetings have become weekly virtual meetings. 

“It’s an open agenda, so we can support each other,” Donovan says. They use the Glow and Grow approach of talking about what’s going well (glows) and what has been challenging (places where there’s room to grow). “We also share resources that we’ve come across during the week.”

“My coordinators are being very creative about how they use this ‘timeout,’ ” Donovan adds. “One coordinator is spearheading the creation of a professional development presentation on self-care and building resiliency that we’ll share with teachers. A group of coordinators will be meeting to work on this.” 

And while the future of how schools will look in the fall remains stubbornly uncertain, Donovan and her coordinators are focusing on doing their best in the present.

“There’s a lot going on, and this is an extremely hard time for people. But we’re trying to help where we can.”

In Springfield, coordinators are using enthusiasm and the relationships at the heart of the City Connects model to keep their virtual connections to students and families strong.

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