Sizing up the new school year

“It is calmer,” Laurie Acker, the City Connects Program in Minnesota, says of the brand new school year.

“When Covid first hit it was an emergency and there was chaos. Then last year was extremely hard for teachers and students. Now this year, there’s science and protocols. We’re following CDC guidelines. If there’s a Covid positive case, we don’t have to shut down a grade or a school. Instead, we can quarantine close contacts.”

But even in this relatively calmer phase, Acker and the City Connects Coordinators she supervises are supporting students and planning ahead.

“We’ve gotten to the point where instead of being reactive, we’re proactive. We’re able to have kids eat in lunchrooms in designated spots. Kids can take their masks off when they go outside. And at some schools, Covid testing for teachers is required,” Acker says.

Coordinators are also much more attuned to signs of anxiety, so they can see when students might need more support.

“We’re running more skills groups for students that focus on coping and calming strategies.”

Schools are providing a strong foundation for the coordinators work by having teachers teach lessons on Covid to clear up misinformation and misconceptions that can lead to anxiety.

The coordinators are also paying attention to how racial equity issues are impacting students. One City Connects school, Risen Christ Catholic School, is two blocks away from where George Floyd was murdered.

“The coordinators want to bring more resources to their schools,” Acker says, so she’s going to share some of the resources from a training program called “Amplifying Equity,” which Acker and City Connects’ other program managers have participated in.

“When you’re talking about equity and social justice, you can’t just talk to people about it once. This has to be something that we continue to dialogue about and study.”

As the year unfolds, coordinators will learn more about students’ and families’ needs through the whole class reviews that coordinators do each year, sitting down with teachers to discuss every child in a school. And as they always have, coordinators will draw on personal relationships to understand what families and the larger school community are going through as the entire country continues to cope with the pandemic.

Looking ahead, Acker is thinking about how she’ll engage with the community partners who help bring services to City Connects schools. In the past, community partner breakfasts have been a great way to convene everyone and share ideas. But because of Covid, Acker plans to come up with a safer alternative.

Although Covid persists, and it’s casting a shadow on what should be a bright new school year, Acker and her coordinators are determined to ensure that students have everything they need to stay safe and well and to thrive in school this year.

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