Over the past few weeks of remote learning, TEN has welcomed community experts to speak with parents in our digital meetings. We have had behavioral specialists, teachers, community leaders connect and collaborate with parents. This week, we have a guest blogger: Hillary Hoffman, who leads parent empowerment at DSST Public Schools.
In this unanticipated era of moving to digital learning, DSST is now more than ever seeking to balance providing our students with an excellent education with also providing extremely high supports. It remains our responsibility to provide a world-class education to our students, but we also know it is critical to address the fact that many in our community are facing unexpected and daunting challenges. We recognize that it does not matter if we are able to provide the best educational materials and instruction if our families and students are facing barriers to accessing them online, or are having trouble focusing because of the mental stress that every day brings, or are spending their days caring for loved ones.
We are in this together and hope that our collective work and support can make sure we come out of this as an even stronger community. I hope that answering these 3 questions can help shed some light on how DSST is approaching digital learning and how your partnership as parents and guardians has never been more critical.
How are we making sure that no student falls through the cracks?
At DSST, we believe that every person desires to be affirmed for their unique gifts and talents and every person desires to make some positive contribution to the human story.
As we moved to E-school, we knew our first step had to be connecting families to our new online community. One of the first barriers to tackle was computer and internet access. We knew all students needed to be connected to the internet and hardware so that we could continue supporting each and every student. Currently, 99.9% of our students are connected to the internet. We have also done home visits to connect directly with families and make sure that students have everything they need. We have been lending out chairs, desks, and headphones so that students can have an environment that is conducive to learning. It is incredibly important for students to have a workspace where they can learn, and you can learn more about how one parent set her students up for E-School here. We have partnered with Denver Metro Emergency Food Network to create the DSST COVID Family Relief Fund to raise money for food delivery to families in need, and also to help families with rent and payment of utilities.
We also know that, even though we cannot be in the same space at school, it’s now more important than ever to keep our students close. We have an advisory structure where each advisor has a small group of students for whom he or she is the main point of contact. Advisors check in with each of their students individually once a week, send a short progress report home to families once a week, and connect with each family by phone at least once a month. We are also using the Flyer Connect app for two-way communication between families that allows for translation.
We recognize that many of our students have responsibilities within their homes and families, such as caring for younger siblings, that impact their availability for E-School. This is a large reason why we have created flexibility in how and when work is completed during E-School. Although we have synchronous instructional blocks, there is always the option to complete assignments at a different time, with Friday at 12:00pm as the due date for all assignments for the week. This gives them the entire week to complete assignments and allows our students to engage in learning in whatever way is most impactful for them at this time and allows for flexibility based on family needs. Fridays are open for office hours and student check-ins. We felt it was important to use Fridays as a time to connect and give extra support, whether that might be with instruction or something completely unrelated to academics.
How has DSST led with a trauma-informed lens while insisting kids have access to a high-quality educational experience?
We recognize that supporting our students’ wellness is a top-tier priority in these challenging times. Each day, students complete a Wellness Survey that serves as an attendance tracker while also providing an opportunity for students to describe how they and their families are doing, and what needs they might have. The results of the wellness survey are reviewed daily by leadership team members at each school and follow-up is determined based on student responses. For example, if a student shares that they are worried about their family having enough food or affording rent, a school team member will reach out to that student and family to offer support and work to get them what they need. If a student shares that they are feeling the emotional strain of E-School and the COVID-19 Pandemic, a mental health provider may follow up with that student to offer a check-in and talk through strategies to manage stress during difficult times.
Advisors play a critical role for our students in real-life school and their role is magnified during E-School. All students have an advisor who is their “go-to” person during E-School. Advisors lead a daily advisory lesson each morning to kick off E-School and ground each day in the support we are giving to one another. Additionally, each student has at least one individual check-in each week with their advisor. This 1:1 time is meant to be an opportunity for the student and advisor to talk through their social/emotional wellness at this time as well as any academic support they may need.
As a network, we created Social-Emotional & Mental Health Guidance that was provided to all staff to ensure that every team member feels equipped to support the social-emotional needs of our students and knows how to reach out for additional support when it is needed. This guidance includes proactive supports and resources, as well as steps to take if a staff member is concerned about the wellbeing of a student.
What are the weekly goals and outcomes that students should be working on?
Every week there are particular modules and assignments. This is different at every grade because we are tailoring instruction for students and not simply giving all students across the network the same work to do.
E-School runs from 9 AM to 3 PM. Students start the day by taking an attendance survey so we know which students are engaging and connected every day. There are 4 class blocks for learning each day, Monday - Thursday. We hope and expect that students attend their classes during class time each day, but advisors also work with students on an individual basis who might have competing responsibilities during this time. Friday is largely open for office hours support.
Assignments are available every Monday at 8 AM and need to be completed and submitted by 12 PM each Friday. Students can complete the weekly modules at their own pace and will receive support during daily class times and on Fridays.
Parents and care-givers receive a Grade Level Weekly Schedule ahead of each week that includes links to assignments and daily Teams classes. This helps foster partnership with our families, who use the Weekly Schedule to know what’s coming in the next week and to help hold their students accountable. Parents and care-givers also received a simple progress report each week, so that they can see if their students are missing any classes or assignments. Families also receive a weekly survey so that we are receiving continuous feedback on what is going well and what needs to improve.
Again, parent partnership has never been more important to setting students up well. We have worked together with parents to make adjustments along the way and work to figure out how we can break down barriers and stay on the same page in order to support students together. Thank you, parents, and families!