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Streamlined & Supported Learning, Even in Times of Crisis

Photo courtesy of The O’Farrell Charter School

By Sarah Beauchemin

When COVID-19 hit in March, people were forced to quickly adjust to a new way of life. The scope of change has been vast.  

But it has been particularly challenging for K-12 students, teachers, and parents. The O’Farrell Charter School responded right away to the crisis with leadership and transparency to ensure their underrepresented students and families experienced as little stress and disruption as possible.  

OCS began the daunting transition to distance learning by first establishing their top three objectives:  

“From there, we developed policies to make this happen based on research,” Mathews said. “We clearly communicated our objectives to parents and staff, and acknowledged that there would be mistakes – because we were all learning together.” 

Personalized learning and instruction, no matter what 

Staff and instructors first addressed how to deliver and maintain the high-quality, stimulating instruction that their students are used to.  

Like other schools, OCS uses technology like Google Classroom, Nearpod, and SeeSaw to teach online, but also chose to extra focus on personalizing the learning process.  

Parents of OCS students recognize the personalized distance learning experience that the school has offered, and are grateful for their support.  

“I get immediate responses to my emails, and that‘s a game-changer. It filled me with happiness to know someone’s always there,” said Angela Sanders, mother of OCS seventh-grader Kryst’na. “I’m so appreciative of the staff for being on top of their jobs and making homeschooling so much easier for both students and parents.” 

Social and emotional support when it is needed the most  

Since COVID-19 has disproportionately affected low-income communities and communities of color, social and emotional support services are a top priority at OCS.  

“Parents of low-income families are living in very close quarters, having to navigate a pandemic that requires staying home while also continuing to deal with the demands of the ‘outside world,’”said Janessa Nedney, Family Support Services Coordinator at OCS. “All this, while having little-to-no savings and endlessly waiting for unemployment checks to kick in. It is a enormous burden to carry.”  

That is why OCS has ensured that students and their families have unlimited, timely access to FSS resources at OCS. FSS also provides referrals to therapeutic services, parenting support groups, and virtual parent engagement events to help answer COVID-specific questions. 

“Staff members, including myself, reach out to families whenever we hear that they are experiencing some socio-emotional difficulty,” said Pamela Barry, OCS Elementary School Vice Principal and Homeless/Foster liaison for the school. “We let them know we understand they are struggling, and we’ll work with them any way we can.”  

Supporting instructors from all sides  

Last but certainly not least, OCS made it a priority to give their instructors the extended support they need and deserve.  

OCS created online professional development for all staff, including a menu of professional learning opportunities based on each person’s knowledge levels and areas of expertise.  

“We shared with staff everything that was happening at the school, and everything that was coming from the county and state, to keep them up to date,” Mathews said.  

Most importantly, the OCS administration gave instructors permission and space to navigate the crisis in their own way. They trust their teachers to decide what’s best for them and their own students.  

“As principal, I still don’t have all the answers,” she said. “I am learning right alongside teachers, and we have worked it out as we always do – together.”  

Mathews said that above all, she wants all OCS families, parents, and students to know that they are not alone in this time of grave uncertainty.  

“Our students are at the forefront of everything we do, and our goal is to teach and support them in the best way possible, be it online or in-person.”  

The O’Farrell Charter School will begin school Aug. 19, 2020.