Observations from the pandemic: a policy brief

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The pandemic’s global toll has been devastating, especially for students and schools. But as City Connects has moved through the last 18 months, we’ve observed a range of needs that we are sharing in a new policy brief, “Effects of the pandemic on students, families, and school staff in 2020.” 

The brief draws on the power and insights of City Connects’ network, which currently includes over 140 schools in five states and in the nation of Ireland. During the height of the pandemic, we gathered information from City Connects Coordinators who implement our model by assessing students’ needs and strengths and delivering responsive services. In November 2020, 73 of 90 invited coordinators responded to an anonymous survey. The brief is based on a subset of these coordinators’ responses to a longer survey.

 

Working through a pandemic 

When schools shut down in Spring 2020, the brief notes, “children, families, and staff in high-poverty schools faced the compounding effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing racial and economic injustice.” 

 During this harrowing time, City Connects coordinators continued their work in a range of situations. As the brief explains, “14% of coordinators worked at schools with fully in-person learning and worked in the school, whereas about half of coordinators worked in schools with remote learning and were working from home.” 

Coordinators reported that the greatest needs families had in Fall of 2020 were “for technology (e.g., Chromebooks), technical support with online learning platforms, food, and child care for learning or supervision.”

 

Family and student needs 

Coordinators reported that the greatest needs families had in Fall of 2020 were “for technology (e.g., Chromebooks), technical support with online learning platforms, food, and child care for learning or supervision.” 

Families also faced challenges in the areas of “health, socio-emotional support, and access to resources,” specifically: 

• “52% of coordinators reported that fear of contracting COVID-19 was extremely or very challenging for students and families” 

• more than “30% of coordinators reported that mental health interventions, housing support, translation support for non-English speaking families, technology support, and internet access were extremely or very challenging for students and families,” and 

• according to 40% of coordinators, there was less need among students and families for physical health support, social-emotional support, and food support

The brief adds, “Importantly, it may be that while many families were in need of these supports, existing systems in City Connects schools were able to meet those needs.” For example we found “a substantial need for food for students and families,” however “the low percentage of coordinators who reported food support as very or extremely challenging for students and families… suggests that systems in place may be able to ease the challenge of food access.”

 

Teacher, school staff, and coordinator needs 

Like families and students, teachers and school staff also faced a range of challenges. 

Among these are, “work-related stress and teacher and staff burnout,” which “were a widespread and substantial challenge, with more than 75% of coordinators reporting they were extremely or very challenging for teachers and school staff.“ 

Coordinators also reported “that teachers and school staff found fear of getting COVID-19 extremely or very challenging.” And almost half of coordinators reported “that teachers and school staff found communication with students and families extremely or very challenging.” 

One positive observation: “communication among staff was slightly or not challenging, which suggests that communication channels within the school – in-person or in the remote learning environment – were working well for the majority of schools implementing City Connects.” 

The coordinators also reported their own challenges, including: “uncertainty and changing policies, student attendance and engagement, and clarity and adherence to school policies” as well as “high levels of teacher stress, fear of contracting COVID-19, and concerns about student engagement.” 

 

Next steps… more monitoring 

As the pandemic winds on, City Connects will continue to monitor the needs of educational stakeholders. This is, as the brief says, particularly important “for those who have been disproportionately impacted.” 

We will also continue to implement City Connects to meet the diverse needs of students, families, teachers, school staff, and our own coordinators. 

As the brief concludes, “A systematic approach to understanding and addressing complex and changing student needs can provide timely and actionable insights, enabling education stakeholders to more successfully weather the current and longer-term effects of COVID-19.”

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