By Serving the Whole Family, Christopher House Made Distance Learning Work for All Kids

By Krissy Novy 

Like other schools across the country, we at Christopher House physically closed our doors in mid-March due to COVID-19, which was an abrupt and at times hectic transition as we provided our scholars with much-needed Chromebooks, personalized online learning plans and access to free home internet.

At the end of the school year, an impressive 91% of our scholars had fully participated in our remote learning programming. In hindsight, there was a less visible piece of our strategy that proved pivotal to our success during the pandemic: our year-round continuum-of-care model.

This approach is unique as we serve the entire family—not just our scholars or during the school day. Our model centers in good part around our family advocates, who also serve as year-round case workers. Within days of our shutdown, they assessed which families were most in need and provided support ranging from mental health counseling to emergency financial aid.

Most of our scholars start with us at birth and stay through high school. They are primarily from Latinx communities that have been historically underinvested. In addition to facing many challenges that come with living on the edge of poverty, they have also been disproportionately affected by COVID-19—the Latinx community has the highest percentage of cases for any demographic in Illinois.

So if we want to set our scholars up for success, having a supportive learning environment at school is not enough. We must also lift up their families along the way to ensure we build a stable and nurturing environment at home. And while the pandemic created new challenges, we were able to quickly adjust our delivery of family services as well as our curriculum.

We created the Thrive Family Fund to address unexpected COVID-19-related expenses at home like rent and utilities, providing $26,000 in rental assistance to dozens of families. We implemented weekly diaper pickup times and enlisted our licensed clinical social workers to offer anxiety-ridden parents support on a daily basis. Teachers held office hours online, giving daily access to both parents and students. We were even able to continue providing doula services to parents, albeit virtually, but no less critical.

The pandemic was a real-world testament to our mission: By continuing to serve the entire family, we set our scholars on a winning path. Unfortunately, our success at virtual learning also exposed the deep inequities in the educational system and the need for other school communities to consider our approach.

This fall, as we continue to deploy our continuum-of-care strategies, we know our scholars will thrive. This fall, we have experienced a 95% participation rate with online learning, and, as always, we’ll be continue to be there for our families long after the end of the school day to help build an environment at home where everyone can succeed.

 

Krissy Novy is in her sixth year serving as Christopher House Elementary School. She has served multiple Chicago schools as a teacher, literary coach, and principal in her 15 years of education. This article originally appeared on Chicago Unheard. 

 

Get to Know Janet Hernandez, Family Advocate

With the closure of our schools in March due to COVID-19, so much has changed about the way we conduct learning in our pre-school, elementary, and middle school classrooms. But one thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to our scholars and families. In this series, we’ll highlight our teachers and staff and the ways they’ve adapted to continue educating and supporting scholars and parents through COVID-19. 

How long have you been with Christopher House 

I have been with Christopher House for two years.  

Can you explain your role? What are your main responsibilities?  

As a family advocate, I provide resources for families in need and support. We are our parents’ point person and ally.  

How has COVID-19 impacted your work? What new responsibilities have you taken on to help families?  

We haven’t been able to see families in person. Not being able to see people in person has been hard. It’s a lot harder to support parents over the phone. At the beginning of the pandemic, we were calling 15 families a week to make sure they had what they needed.  

A lot of our families don’t have access to laptops and smart phones, so it was harder for them to get the help they needed and do things like submit applications for rental assistance or apply for unemployment or assistance from the government. That was a major concern for us, and we wanted to help them get all the resources they need.  

A lot of families lost their jobs when the quarantine started, so Family Support Services increased our rental assistance program to help support them. Our main role while working from home was supporting parents who had lost their job. We would ask them what kind of job they’re looking for and send them job postings. We can’t fill out applications for them, but we can send them all the resources and help them on the phone. And if someone didn’t have access to food, we would connect them with local resources, such as a food pantry in their neighborhood. We also provided diapers for pick-up at our sites.  

I really feel like our department has gone above and beyond to figure out how we can support our families through this tough situation. When we were re-opening centers, we asked families if they needed clothing and shoes and were able to provide that as well. Christopher House always goes above and beyond for our families.  

How are you continuing to connect with students and families?  

In April, our department provided all of us with a work phone so we could call our families and give them our work hours. We already used the Remind app, and that was our main source of communication when sending social work updates and reminders. We stay in touch over the phone, Remind, and email. Even though we don’t see the families, were still able to communicate and offer as much support as we can.  

We’re not currently taking in-person appointments with parents, but we’re hoping to be able to do so safely by the fall.   

What are you most looking forward to after the pandemic is over 

I look forward most to being able to interact with families and children in person. One of my favorite parts about my job is the one-on-one interactions. I really miss seeing parents and seeing the kids. And I’m also looking forward to not wearing masks!  

What advice do you give families for coping with COVID-19?  

This whole pandemic brought out a more personal side of me. I really feel for our families who are hurting, and I’ve tried to be understanding and provide as much support as I can. Together, we’re praying this is going to end soon, but in the meantime, I want to provide them with all the services they need. I ask how their kids are doing and try to support the whole family. I just want them to know I’m still here for them.  

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

The ECE CEO Roundtable: Invest in our children at birth to build racial equity

Now is the time for radical change to ensure our children have a better world than the one they are witnessing today.

As we rebuild from this pandemic and global recession amid a reignited civil rights movement, we recognize that physical safety is only part of what’s needed to open early childhood programs safely. It will take a significant public and private investment to erase the zip code disadvantage baked into our early childhood education system, when the burden of COVID-19 continues to weigh most heavily on communities already suffering from educational inequity.

We speak as the leaders of 14 mostly minority-led and -staffed community nonprofits serving tens of thousands of children and families across the City. As we resume in-person programming, continue distance learning, family support check-ins, and distribution of food and essential supplies, our high-quality early childhood programs will ensure Chicago’s working families can return to their jobs and communities can thrive.

The children we support, their families, and our staff are the individuals now deemed “essential” to help keep the economy functioning during the pandemic. We insist that their well-being and potential also be declared essential.

Today, 83% of Chicago Public Schools students come from low-income households and only one in every four kids is ready for kindergarten across Illinois. While we work to bridge the opportunity gap, our efforts to promote equity are swamped by critical responses to COVID-19. We are adding remote engagement and family support, including mental health interventions, while facing decreasing enrollment and more absences.

COVID-19 is destabilizing our classrooms. Without stable funding, we can’t fulfill our promise.

Our mission includes a commitment to family engagement and advocacy, which is linked to a child’s future education and life success. That’s why we’re calling on our funding partners to draw on our experience as community representatives to inform allocation of the resources that can lead our children to a more equitable future.

Governor Pritzker and the Illinois legislature: thank you for appropriations to support early childhood education providers. You and other state leaders must continue to advocate at the state and federal levels for more resources, including relaxing the Childcare Assistance Program monthly attendance requirement from 79.5% to 50% due to COVID-19-related absences through June, 2021.

Mayor Lightfoot and DFSS: we’re grateful for your continued funding. With increases through an allocation of the CARES ACT resources or other funds for early childhood education, we can more aggressively address inequities. Private sector supporters: please increase support for general operating needs to help us address the unexpected and unknown.

In the days and weeks ahead, we’ll see more ways in which responding to systemic racism requires us to learn and unlearn how we live and work together as Chicagoans. We remain committed to that effort in partnership with public and private funders, and with an undying commitment to our families who trust us to advocate–now and as long as inequities exist.

Early Childhood Education CEO Roundtable Current Members

Asian Human Services ∙ Carole Robertson Center for Learning ∙ Centers for New Horizons ∙ Chicago Child Care Society ∙ Chicago Commons ∙ Chinese American Service League ∙ Christopher House ∙ Concordia Place ∙ El Valor ∙ Erie Neighborhood House ∙ Gads Hill Center ∙ Metropolitan Family Services ∙ Onward Neighborhood House ∙ YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago

Get to Know Kristina Garcia, HR Manager

With the closure of our schools in March due to COVID-19, so much has changed about the way we conduct learning in our pre-school, elementary, and middle school classrooms. But one thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to our scholars and families. In this series, we’ll highlight our teachers and staff and the ways they’ve adapted to continue educating and supporting scholars through COVID-19.  

How long have you been with Christopher House 

Two years. I started as a Human Resources Intern in June 2018, transitioned to Human Resources Assistant in October 2018, and I was recently promoted to Human Resources Manager. 

Can you explain your role? What are your main responsibilities?  

My role is to maintain a positive work environment, maintain a positive relationship between employees and the HR department, promote Christopher House’s culture through employee events, help staff with benefits and answer any questions, and recognize staff who have gone above and beyond. I also do payroll, recruiting, and help my supervisor and managers at all the locations with any policies and procedures.   

How has COVID-19 impacted your work?  

It’s impacted my work a lot, because I can’t meet with employees in person anymore. Everything is through email. I miss seeing everyone’s faces and talking to people 

Employee’s concerns have also been really different due to COVID-19. It’s been harder to respond to questions because it’s such an ever-changing virus. Its such an emotional and difficult time because everybody is dealing with the virus in their own way and has faced different challenges, whether someone passed away in their family, or they or their loved one had the virus themselves. Working from home has also been hard for a lot of people because they have kids and can’t be on the computer for eight hours a day 

Usually, in HR, we just have specific policies and specific answers. Recently, I’ve had a lot of tough conversations that I’ve never really had to have before because of the uncertainty of this time.   

How are you continuing to connect with staff 

I try to be really prompt when someone has a question. I want them to know I’m still hearing their concerns and still here to answer any questions.  

What are you most looking forward to after quarantine?  

Honestly, just going back to my normal work week. This has been an eye-opening experience and a reminder to be grateful for your day to day job and schedule. I feel like I took for granted my drive to work and seeing everybody at the schools.  

When we get back, I’m going to be so excited to just say hi to everyone in the morning. I’m looking forward to seeing employees again in person and being at the sites. Hopefully, we can have a big, cool employee appreciation event when it’s safe to do so.  

What advice do you give staff for coping with COVID-19?  

When we were all working from home, I would say, make sure you have a point in your day where you can relax and just not think about work and do something that brings you happiness. And remember that I’m always there if you need someone to talk to or if you need to vent about something. Now that people are going back to work, we have been encouraging people to step outside and breathe some fresh air, because it’s hard to wear a mask eight hours a day 

I want our staff to know that I’m really grateful for them because not everybody can do the work they do. But their work is so important. It’s already a difficult job, and with the pandemic and racial tensions that are happening right now, we really appreciate the work theyre doing and the time and energy they’re using to help our children and families. We love you guys!  

Get to Know Diana Soriano, Doula

With the closure of our schools in March due to COVID-19, so much has changed about the way we conduct learning in our pre-school, elementary, and middle school classrooms. But one thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to our scholars and families. In this series, we’ll highlight our teachers and staff and the ways they’ve adapted to continue educating and supporting scholars and parents through COVID-19.  

How long have you been with Christopher House 

I started as an intern in October 2018, and I transitioned to doula in February 2019.  

Can you explain your role? What are your main responsibilities?  

A doula is a trained person who helps women prepare for labor. At Christopher House, we serve pregnant teens, anyone who is 21 or younger and a first-time mom. Many of the girls we serve are around 18-21, but we do have some younger girls, between 13 and 18.   

During the prenatal visits, we empower young mothers to learn as much as possible about their rights and all the different components of their birth. We develop their birth wish and outline their preferences during labor, discuss breastfeeding, breathing techniques, and medical interventions. I attend their labor and support them through their labor as well as help their laboring partner. I also help with breastfeeding once the baby arrives, as they’re adapting during that big transition from being pregnant to having the baby.  

How has COVID-19 impacted your work?  

Right now, we’re doing virtual doula visits. I have 12 people in my caseload, and we’ll schedule a time each week to call or do Zoom video conference. We’re still sharing information and discussing the same topics we would in person. It is tough because usually, I’ll use breast or pelvic models, and with us not being able to go into their homes, we’ve been relying on verbal communication. But I’ve been sending handouts and screen-sharing, as well as sharing YouTube videos 

Because of COVID-19, there is only one laboring support person allowed in the birth room. One of the moms in my caseload had a birth in April, and I was only able to virtually support her. I was texting her and offered to do a Facetime or a phone call with her or her laboring partner. We were communicating through text during her birth, and I would send images of things she could try to work through the contractions. I would give suggestions like, “You can ask for a hot pack, maybe that could help. Just texting her and showing that I cared about her wellbeing and the baby, even though I wasn’t present, had an impact. I remember she was bummed that I wasn’t able to goshe even asked if I could be in the waiting room.  

I have talked to the rest of the girls about the possibility of me not being able to attend the birth. In the meantime, we’re still talking through different topics related to their birth and all their options. I want them to know its important for them to advocate for themselves and for their babies, and I’ll still be available via text, Facetime, or phone.  

How are you continuing to connect with students and families?  

Constant communication and checking in with them. At least twice a week, I send a quick text saying that I hope everything is ok, especially for those moms who are getting closer to their birth date. When everything was newer with COVID, it was very nerve-wracking for these moms, having their first baby and not having things go according to plan. I want to show them that we care for their well-being, and if they need anything, they can always reach out.  

To better serve these moms, I’ve also been doing doula webinars with the Ounce of Prevention every two weeks. They’re doula-only webinars where everyone shares their current experience and new ideas we can incorporate into our calls and new resources.  

What are you most looking forward to after quarantine?  

I’m looking most forward to actually going to births. It’s something very special to witness, another life being born. There’s a lot of satisfaction at the end, after all the hours during the labor, when the baby is out and mom is so happy. That’s one of the things I miss the most.  

What advice do you give students/families for coping with COVID-19?  

Our moms are concerned right now because they really want that support from additional family members and their doula or parent educator. They want that physical presence from others. They’re scared that they won’t be able to get the things they need for the baby or that they may run out of wipes or diapers. They’re low-income and they fear bringing a baby into the world and not being able to support them.  

But most of them are doing pretty well. We talk a lot about self-care and how they’re doing emotionally and physically. I remind them to stay home, stay healthy, not only for them but for their child. If you’re okay, your baby is going to be okay also.  

Get to Know Bernie Loyola, Associate Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Early Childhood

With the closure of our schools in March due to COVID-19, so much has changed about the way we conduct learning in our pre-school, elementary, and middle school classrooms. But one thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to our scholars and families. In this series, we’ll highlight our teachers and staff and the ways they’ve adapted to continue educating and supporting scholars through COVID-19.  
How long have you been with Christopher House?
11 years. I started as a pre-school teacher in a 2-year-old classroom.
Can you explain your role? What are your main responsibilities?
Right now, my responsibility is establishing best practices for all teachers, ensuring we are following our core values, and ensuring our kids are ready for kindergarten. I provide protocols on creating the e-learning videos. Each week, I provide an objective to focus on based on Teaching Strategies GOLD (for example, math). Within those objectives, I have teachers pick a dimension to focus on (for example, counting), so we are hitting a variety of dimensions in the videos.
I also make sure teachers are using household materials and thinking about the families we serve and things they’d already have in their houses. We are being really mindful of our families’ situations.
How has COVID-19 impacted your work?
Besides the learning objectives, I’m also thinking about our students’ mental health. That’s why I am creating the Zoom meetings. Even though we have these e-learning videos available, I think the connection between the kids and the teachers is more important for their wellbeing.
This role and going through COVID has made me more confident in making decisions and helped me become more strategic. It’s been a challenge, but I’m always thinking, how do I ensure that families are safe and help provide a little routine in their child’s life?
How are you and the early childhood team continuing to connect with students and families?
Each week, one of our teachers uploads the videos to Youtube and creates a playlist, which we share with families along with a weekly newsletter.
It’s important to connect because they’re all experiencing trauma. Before COVID, the kids were so excited to see their teachers every day. For kids, having a predictable day and understanding what transitions are like gives them confidence and security. When COVID happened, all of that was taken away, so that’s another trauma. They’re trying to understand what is going on and why this is happening. It’s important for them to connect with their teachers through the video learning so they get a sense of security again.
What are you most looking forward to after quarantine?
Hugging everyone! Connecting with the families. I look forward to seeing the kids smiling faces, that’s probably the biggest thing, and hearing their voices and watching them grow.
What advice do you give teachers for coping with COVID-19?
I’m transparent and let the teachers know we are all going through this together. It’s most important to focus on your mental health and make sure you are doing a lot of self-care. I let them know we’re all a family doing this together.

Get to Know Loren Myers, First Grade Lead Teacher

With the closure of our schools in March due to COVID-19, so much has changed about the way we conduct learning in our pre-school, elementary, and middle school classrooms. But one thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to our scholars and families. In this series, we’ll highlight our teachers and staff and the ways they’ve adapted to continue educating and supporting scholars through COVID-19.  

How long have you been with Christopher House?
This is my second year at Christopher House.
Can you explain your role? What are your main responsibilities?
I take the lead when it comes to getting the team together, lesson planning, and looking at student work. When the shelter in place order began, I took the lead in setting up Google Classroom and remote learning. I set the agenda for the team and make sure we’re all on the same page.
How has COVID-19 impacted your work?
We’ve had to be really innovative and think on our feet about what would be best for our kids. Especially with the younger kids, we don’t use as much technology in the classroom, so it took a lot of getting used to. Our kids have never used Google Classroom, so we had to set that up and create tutorials. We also started doing Google Hangouts, which is new for us.
In first grade, reading groups are really important. They’re in really different places; some kids are reading chapter books and others are learning their letters. Now, we’re doing small reading groups on Google Hangouts. I take a book from our reading app and pull it up on my screen, share it with the students, and we take turns reading a line each. Sometimes we’ll go back and read it all together and have comprehension questions at the end. It’s very different from what I’m used to, but I’m glad we’re making it work and still seeing growth from the kids.
How are you continuing to connect with students and families?
In the elementary school, we already had the Remind App to communicate with parents. At the very beginning, we double checked that we had all the parents on Remind. I communicate daily with all my parents. Sometimes they’ll message me and ask questions, and I’ll walk them through it. Sometimes, some of the kids just want to say hi or talk to their friends, so we’ll set things like that up, too. Not all the kids can be there during school hours, so I record the lessons and post it on Google Classroom so they can go back and watch it. It’s been really nice having the technology.
The leadership team has been instrumental in making the technology accessible to everyone. From day one, Principal Novy made sure everyone took a computer home. She made sure families could get set up with free WiFi and that any family who couldn’t set it up was being mailed work packets. Everyone is being offered something, which is a big difference from Chicago Public Schools. They’ve had a lot of difficulty getting out technology and getting every kid connected. I’m really grateful to leadership for having this technology in place already.
What are you most looking forward to after quarantine?
I really want to get back in my classroom and see my kids. I feel like there’s going to be a lot of time spent getting adjusted. I think they’re going to be really happy to be back and really grateful to be in a classroom and have fun things to do and get that camaraderie back. It’s not academic, but that’s what I want to focus on at the beginning of the school year.
What advice do you give students/families for coping with COVID-19?
We’ve taken a really non-judgmental approach to all this. Everyone is in such a different place. Even though we have daily assignments, we really just want them to complete what’s comfortable and what they can do. As long as I’m hearing something from them at least once a week, then I’m happy. I know they’re doing the best that they can right now.
Anything else you want to share?
I recently got one poem that made me feel special for Teacher Appreciation week:

How Christopher House Continues to Prepare Infant & Pre-School Scholars for Kindergarten Through COVID-19

By Danielle Castonzo

In mid-March, Christopher House’s Infant & Pre-Schools closed as a result of Governor J.B. Pritzker’s shelter-in-place order and the ongoing danger of COVID-19.   

This has been a challenge for pre-school educators, who rely on play-based learning and making in-person connections with students more than any other age. Christopher House families—100% of whom are low-income—face additional challenges, such as limited access to Internet and technology and stressors at home such as unemployment, food or housing insecurity, and anxiety about the unpredictable future ahead.  

However, Christopher House’s innovative Infant & Pre-School has continued offering weekly programming, recording weekly educational videos for scholars and resources for parents to facilitate at-home learning.  

While we know that young children learn best through hands-on learning experiences, we are working to partner now, more so than ever with parents as children’s first teachers,” said Sarah Collentine, Associate Director of Early Childhood 

Facilitating pre-school education during an unprecedented stay-at-home order is no easy feat, but Christopher House continues to prepare nearly 400 low-income scholars for kindergarten at home through the following methods:   

  • Christopher House teachers record weekly math, literacy, and story time videos. This allows scholars to continue building skills needed for kindergarten readiness, see familiar faces, and maintain a routine through COVID-19. Christopher House’s Associate Director of Curriculum and Instruction—a newly created position—has assembled a best practices toolkit and calendar for creating e-learning videos for all Infant & Pre-School classrooms. The videos are uploaded and shared with families each Monday.  
  • Christopher House has provided resources for parents to facilitate their child’s at-home learning. In mid-March, every Infant & Pre-School scholar was mailed 3 weeks of enrichment activities to complete at home. Additionally, ReadyRosie, a web-based product of Teaching Strategies and The Creative Curriculum, has been shared with families and provides at-home activities and learning games—in English and Spanish—for infants through kindergarteners. 
  • Christopher House continues to provide supports for diverse learners and their parents. Our Diverse Learners Specialist is connecting with all paraprofessionals to create specific videos for diverse learners and their parents, who are struggling with at-home learning. They are helping parents create a visual schedule, establish consistency, and discuss COVID-19 with their children.  
  • Professional development for Infant & Pre-School teachers continues virtually. The Infant & Pre-Schools first Virtual In-Service will be held in May to provide additional support and professional development during this time. In addition, Christopher House’s social workers will facilitate a workshop for teachers on mental health and wellness. Additionally, the Infant & Pre-School’s STEAM Learning Communities are now being held virtually 

We are so proud of teacher’s and leadership’s flexibility, creativity and commitment to excellence as we rapidly pivoted the way we educate and support young children and families,” said Sarah. “While none of this work is easy or straightforward, it is inspiring to be part of team of educators who care so much and are tirelessly dedicated to engaging with their young students—through whatever means possible.”  

 

3 Ways to Support the Entire Family During School Closure and COVID-19

By: Danielle Castonzo

In March, Marline, a single mother of four children, moved out of her one-bedroom apartment in Uptown. Her rent had increased, and she was not able to make the payments on her minimum wage salary.

When COVID-19 shelter in place began, her hours were cut at the fast food restaurant where she works, from 5 to 3 days a week. A balance of $500 was still due on her security deposit.

Marline shared her lease and landlord’s contact information with Christopher House staff, who made a $500 payment directly to the landlord. The payment kept Marline and her four children in good standing and allowed her to save for next month’s rent and purchase essential resources like food, medicine, and cleaning products to prepare for COVID-19.

With the closure of schools and businesses due to COVID-19, low-income families—like Marline and her children—face unemployment, food insecurity, and anxiety. Although COVID-19 has been an unprecedented challenge, Christopher House’s two-generation approach and longstanding relationships with families have allowed staff and teachers to stay connected to parents and scholars and ensure their needs are being met.

Christopher House provides a high-quality continuum of education, from six weeks through the eighth grade, paired with support services for each child’s family. Each family is provided an assigned family advocate, and receives access to parent education workshops, on-site food pantries, social workers, and counseling.

As scholars are enrolled in our schools for more than ten years, Christopher House staff foster meaningful, trusting, and longstanding relationship with parents. Not only do teachers understand their scholars’ unique strengths and challenges, they get to know each scholar’s home life—which allows them to meet the needs of the entire family.

“Christopher House has a department created to build and maintain relationships with families so that they can get the support that they need,” Rachel Cope, Christopher House Social Worker, said. “That’s what makes the difference.”

Christopher House is proud to share some best practices that have allowed staff to support parents and families through COVID-19:

  • Ensure parents and children receive emotional support during this stressful time. Christopher House social workers are conducting weekly wellness calls with scholars and families in their caseloads and have created a hotline that families can call for free tele-counseling. Social workers maintain consistency with scholars on their caseload by scheduling calls at the same time each week on video chat. They also stay in touch through weekly motivational text messages and hand-written notes.
  • Provide essential resources needed to achieve stability at home. Christopher House parents remain in near-constant contact with their family advocates, who ensure they have access to food, medicine, and other resources. Staff also host a weekly diaper pick-up at our three locations. Christopher House has partnered with Lakeview Food Pantry to provide food to families, and 55 parents are signed-up to participate in a weekly one-hour Zoom workshop on best parenting skills, which will be offered in English and Spanish.
  • Stay connected through technology. Christopher House staff and teachers remain connected to parents and scholars through the Remind App, social media, video chat and Google Classrooms. Staff and teachers use these platforms to share—in English and Spanish—COVID-19 developments, resources to navigate challenges like food insecurity or unemployment, and mental health tips and resources from our social workers. Social workers have also shared resources for talking about COVID-19 with children, such as online picture books.

As our social worker Rachel reiterated, during this overwhelming time, our established and longstanding relationship with families have made all the difference:

“If they’re in crisis, they’re not going to just reach out to a stranger,” she said. “But if they know that person and that person has helped them in the past, they’re going to be more likely to seek support.”

How Christopher House is supporting scholars during COVID-19 through e-learning

By: Danielle Castonzo

COVID-19 has shaken the entire world, but with the recent closure of Illinois schools and businesses, low-income families have been hit the hardest. These families face job insecurity, food insecurity, and anxiety about what the future will bring. 

But the 4,100 children and families in Christopher House know they’re not alone. Christopher House staff have quickly adapted its innovative education and immersive support model to provide e-learning, resources, and emotional support through the school closure.  

And their efforts are paying off. More than 90% of Christopher House scholars have been regularly completing assignments, and nearly 100% of Christopher House scholars have access to the at-home technology needed for success.  

“What I’m most proud of is how committed the students and families are and how the teachers have stepped up,” Veronica Johnson, Personalized Learning Specialist, said. “Everyone is working together to really be successful, everyone is doing their part and doing a good job with something that was completely foreign a month ago.”  

Christopher House is proud to share 5 best practices that have allowed our school to transition to e-learning and stay connected to scholars and families through COVID-19 and beyond:  

  • Provide scholars with tools for success. Every K-8 scholar was sent home on the last day of school with Chromebooks to ensure a smooth transition to e-learning. Additionally, family advocates have been in touch with every family to make sure they can get access to Internet and are being connected to the essential resources,  food, and financial assistance needed to maintain stability at home 
  • Maintain consistency. Each week, scholars receive assignments and lessons in every core subject, which are recorded by their teachers and posted on Google Classroom, a platform that allows teachers to post assignments, communicate through a message board, and host video chats. Scholars also receive pre-recorded weekly music and physical education lessons.  
  • Personalize e-learning plans. Each e-learning plan has been adjusted according to grade level and scholars’ personal strengths and areas of growth. Scholars are also assigned personalized math and reading computer programs with a required time limit.  
  • Stay in touch. Each teacher holds weekly office hours, which gives scholars the opportunity to video conference and ask any questions; parents are also encouraged to jump on the video call to connect with teachers. Additionally, English Language Learner and Diverse Learner teachers are in constant contact with scholars and provide extra support where needed. Parents can contact teachers and Christopher House staff at any time using the Remind app.  
  • Establish accountability. Teachers run weekly technology reports to see how much time each scholar is spending on the education platforms. For younger scholars, parents are sending pictures of completed activities to teachers.  

Although the path forward is uncertain, Christopher House is committed to supporting families and scholars every step of the way.  

“We are working hard to make sure students are receiving instruction and feel connected to the Christopher House community,” Shay Frey, Associate Director of Primary School, said. “Above all, we are working to make sure families feel supported by us. If a parent is feeling overwhelmed or like the work is too much, our answer is always to just do their best and let us know if there is anything we can do to support.”