How one rural school district is coping with COVID-19 closures

This post was originally published here.

I don’t think any educators working today have faced a challenge like this one. Right now, we’re building the plane as we’re flying it.

Without school, some students go without food

When school closures were announced, our first priority was ensuring that our students would have access to regular meals. Because of the high levels of poverty in the area, Stanfield Elementary School District provides breakfast and lunch for each student.

Delivering food is much needed. And because many of our community’s families lack personal transportation, we’re making use of bus routes to make deliveries.

rural school closures Arizona

 

 

 

 

 

We’re helping all children learn

Along with meals, staff is also delivering paper packets for student enrichment. Our district is employing a hybrid approach, as most households lack internet access or an internet-enabled device. When we surveyed families, we found that only 15 percent of children in our district have access to both internet and a device.

Stanfield’s rural location makes it challenging to connect homes, due to an absence of infrastructure. Many lack the ability to connect to high-speed internet and with hotspots unavailable for weeks, we’re estimating it would take until early May to provide online learning access to all families.

As a result, teachers are creating both digital lessons through Google classroom and paper-based instruction and assignments. All students will have access to the same lessons, which will review previous content for the first few weeks of remote learning.

We know that work, language and other barriers will mean some students lack adult help at home. So to minimize stress, students can improve their grades, but we’ve put policies in place to ensure that no grades will drop from where they were at the end of the third quarter.

Maintaining connections

Our teachers are also hard at work maintaining relationships with students. For some youth, school is the only place they have access to caring adults. It’s their strongest, safest community, with educators, paraprofessionals, and friends.

Teachers are reaching out as much as possible to keep the connection alive and to monitor student progress and well-being. Teams are meeting regularly to share what students need and how we can help now and next year.

We’re especially concerned about students who are living in crisis – those who lack a safe home, or already struggle with mental health. Schools closures could exacerbate anxiety and other challenges, with potential long-term impacts.

Looking to the years ahead

School closures may not have immediate consequences on students’ grades, but it will certainly impact their long-term learning. During a typical summer break, students experience a “summer slide” and can lose up to two months of learning. We’ve just extended that break by an additional two months.

The backward slide, coupled with the loss of teaching time, could take years to fully address. Schools will have much to consider, including addressing mental health issues, offering appropriate academic interventions, and how to pay for all of it. Some may consider summer courses or after-school opportunities, with the goal of providing students as much exposure to new learning as possible.

But doing all of that will require money and staff. We’re already looking into grants that could help, but that won’t get us far enough. The most recent school safety grant means we have a counselor joining the team, but many districts struggle to find qualified applicants for these and teaching roles. To aid the educators we do have, we’ll also need increased teacher professional development, to help each be the best they can.

In the coming months and years, Arizonans must come together to support all of our students. We can work through this, if we work together.

Dr. Melissa Sadorf is the superintendent of Stanfield Elementary School District. She has also been a principal, teacher, reading interventionist and coach. Sadorf holds a master’s degree and doctorate in education from Northern Arizona University.

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