When COVID-19 shut down the Boston Public Schools, Lexy Marsh, the City Connects Coordinator at the Oliver Wendell Holmes Innovation School, felt a huge loss.
“I love going to school. I love the routine. So when our school closed, it was sad and stressful, but I quickly switched from how I was feeling to focusing on my students,” Marsh says.
“All of our kids qualify for the free, reduced lunch program. About 30% of our kids are homeless or displaced, which is a huge percentage. And about 50% of our kids receive some kind of special needs services.”
“And all my kids thrive on structure, even if they don’t want to admit it. They like coming to school because they know what to expect. They’re going to get breakfast, lunch and a snack. They know what teachers think they’re capable of doing, and they’re going to rise to that level. So, it was sad to know they wouldn’t have this structure.”
So when her school switched to online learning, Marsh created new structures, as a peek at her weekly schedule reveals:
– attend virtual school leadership meeting
– videotape read-alouds and Second Step lessons (social emotional lessons) that will be shared with students
“Teachers normally do social-emotional lessons in class every day. And during the school year, I would just sit in on Second Step lessons. But because teachers have so many other things to teach virtually right now, I decided that I would help them out.”
“For the social-emotional videos for the little kids I use puppets and cover how to make friends, how to resolve a conflict. They’re a little cheesy, but the kids think they’re funny.”
– kindergarten and a pre-K lunch group
“That’s really fun. The kids ask lots of questions about my apartment and why my mom isn’t there.”
– office hours where students can check in
– family check-ins
“I check in with tier 3 families to see if they need anything or if anything has changed.” Families in tier 3 have the most challenges and needs.
– student support team meetings
“In the City Connects model, this is called an individual student review, but schools will often call it a student support team. We check in about how these students are feeling and if they have any family or health concerns. Then the team develops strategies to help.” These reviews focus on students with the most intensive needs.
“We’re also having parents participate because some of them are seeing more of their children’s challenging behavior, and they want help to address that.”
– second grade lunch group
– Second Step lesson planning time
– grade level team meetings
– office hours
– community partner checks-ins
Marsh talks with Rosie’s Place, a local nonprofit organization that serves poor and homeless women. Rosie’s is closed but still providing online referrals. Marsh is also in contact with Children’s Services of Roxbury, a mental health provider that has shifted to virtual counseling, and Smart Smiles, which provides free dental work.
“Girls Inc. is one of our partners, I love them. They do girl empowerment groups for the fifth grade and they are amazing. All the girls want to be in that group.”
– meeting with the principal
– supervisory meeting with City Connects Program Manager
– City Connects professional development meeting
– full school professional development meeting
“All the teachers meet on a Zoom call together, which is really fun.”
– student accountability team meeting
– office hours
– data entry
– family outreach and check-ins
– planning time for the next week
Woven into this structure are lots of conversations.
“Building rapport is so important. Families and kids need to trust me, so I have to go in and be vulnerable and build relationships, then I can advocate for their needs and guide them in a direction where I can help them.”
It’s not the same as being in school, Marsh admits, but the City Connects model still works, engaging students and families engaged with supportive relationships and needed services.
“I share the fact that this is a scary time and none of us know what’s going to happen.
”I tell them, I don’t have all the answers about the pandemic, this is new for me, too. And that camaraderie unites everyone. It makes it clear that we’re all in this together. And that’s what has been helping us all get through this time.”