Kingsman Academy Public Charter School in Washington D.C. is an open-enrollment middle and high school that welcomes all students into a comfortable, therapeutic environment with personal attention and multi-tiered behavior and academic supports. Our student population is 90% at-risk and 40% students with disabilities. We provide individualized instruction, engagement and behavior support, and a project-based curriculum in order to meet the unique needs of our community. Our focus extends well beyond academics – we support students and families through numerous challenges, including food and housing difficulties, physical or mental health issues, trouble getting to school, and more. When the COVID-19 pandemic led to school building closures, our staff hit a hard pause in order to focus on our community’s hierarchy of needs. We are really leveraging the community connection in order to focus first on wellness.
People are jumping into all of this forgetting that there’s a global pandemic. We immediately focused on tracking down thermometers, menstrual products, and other self care items for students that need those things in their home – we were less concerned about work packets. The first question we asked was, “will our students and families be okay?”
We continue to distribute care packages which include 7 days worth of meals, some of which will be reimbursed by the National School Lunch Program, but much of which will not. Many of our families have lost their jobs and to keep students feeling a sense of belonging means providing for their entire household. If families do not have a means of transportation to come get care packages, we send Ubers to pick up families, or as a last resort, our staff will deliver the supplies themselves. I also have ongoing concerns about the wellbeing and safety of my staff, and I’m working to help them try to minimize exposure while at the same time being available for families. We are trying to track down PPE [personal protective equipment] for them, and potentially secure hazard pay.
“Our initial and ongoing efforts to support the wellbeing of students, families, and staff has always been a core principle of Kingsman Academy – wellness before access.”
The reality of more long term school building closures quickly set in. When you think of Maslow and basic needs, the internet isn’t on there – but in this day and age it actually is, and while resources exist out there, we didn’t want our families to have to jump through hoops. With only a few days to act, we purchased additional Chromebooks and hot spots, and prepped backpacks of supplies to ensure every student could access the learning environment.
While urgently focusing on wellness, our team also prepared a comprehensive Virtual School Plan. Virtual school was a huge shift for the staff, but they were also well positioned to make that shift given our existing instructional practices and expectations. Kingsman offers a highly individualized approach to both engagement and academic needs. Being a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) school, we were already prepared to leverage that framework and refine specially designed instruction for students in the now virtual environment. I told my staff that everything we were doing in the building we should be able to do remotely.
What we learned/big takeaway
The biggest opportunity that has developed amidst this crisis is the creation of the single support point of contact for each family and student – not a teacher – whose job is to ensure that students have whatever they need, from basic wellness supplies to helping families learn how to troubleshoot technology issues. Support staff have Google Hangouts Meet office hours and families or students can drop in during that time to get daily support. Technology has increased the level of access to support staff and helped to streamline who families and students can reach out to for immediate support. This increased communication and assistance with the more basic to the more technical needs has maintained a quality of communication that many thought would be lost during the school building closure.
What we are still figuring out
We are still working to engage a few students – students that have typically required in-person meetings and support in order to stay involved in the school community. Right now, that is dangerous for everyone.
What I would tell other leaders during this time
Focus on the whole school community, and continue to ensure wellness in order to increase access.