“It Feels Good to Be Heard.” How Three Principals are Caring for Vulnerable Students and their Families
Administrators, teachers, cafeteria staff, and janitors at DC Bilingual Public Charter School call the families of all 450 students every week to check in on students and offer support to parents. Each staff member has been carefully matched with a group of families to ensure consistent communication amid the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What we find is that the calls feel good to everyone,” explains Daniela Anello, principal and NewLeaders alum. “It feels good to be heard. It feels good to laugh. It feels good to have somebody listen to you.”
Some families identify immediate needs like diapers, food, and pencils which the school delivers to them as best they can. Some share fears about their legal status which staff work to allay, educating parents on their rights. More often than not, according to Anello, when her staff ask how the school can be of support, families say, “This call is all I need right now.”
Anello joined two fellow alumni and school principals, Alicia Arenas and Jessica Nauiokas, for a virtual panel hosted by New Leaders. All three talked about how they protect the learning of their most vulnerable students and care for the well-being of their families during this crisis.
Listen as each leader describes what makes them proud and what drives them to find solutions for their school communities. Anello developed a comprehensive tracking system to make sure families are safe. Arenas and her faculty created Google Classrooms for students with mild, moderate and severe disabilities. Nauiokas secured professional resources and support for teachers as they counsel students who have lost loved ones due to the coronavirus.
Like educators and leaders across the country, all three principals are finding solutions for problems they never imagined. They recommend the following innovations:
- Playing games virtually with individual high-need students who need opportunities to find joy while building problem-solving skills with a trusted adult
- Hosting virtual coffee chats for families to see and connect with other families in the absence of the morning drop-off camaraderie
- Communicating with undocumented families to steer them to resources and remind them of their rights
- Recreating celebrations and rituals virtually – lunch groups, merit auctions, spirit weeks – to help students stay connected and motivated
- Organizing a toy drive or sending gift baskets to keep students engaged at home
All three leaders are also looking out toward the summer and the next school year. “This time has really given us an opportunity to redefine and strengthen the home-school connection,” Arenas observes. Nauiokas adds, “We need to think about what we should be doing differently so when we open our doors again public education for marginalized communities looks drastically different… It’s going to be a missed opportunity if we go back to the same old schedule…with the same assignments and the same assessments.”
For Anello, navigating this crisis has exposed hidden strengths and vulnerabilities within her school community. “Every family needs something,” she reminds her staff. “Every family can use support.”