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.