At tuition-free Imago Dei Middle School in Tucson, Arizona, we exclusively serve children from low-income families, so the onset of Covid presented us with definite challenges in equipping our children for online learning – we already had a complete set of school laptops that we were able to send home, but needed to equip faculty to standardize the teaching interface. In addition, a number of school families had no internet or inadequate connections. Our crack Family Services team manned the phones last March and manage to get every family connected within a week – in normal times, we don’t make arrangements for our families but advise them about how to do for themselves, but this was an emergency. Then, through the long months that followed, our hard-working IT expert was kept busy repairing and replacing laptops, dropping off hot-spots and generally trouble-shooting for our more than 40 school families, a number of whom had several kids online at once. The generous support of NAES through a EUSA Online Learning grant was of great help in defraying the substantial costs of pivoting to remote learning and keeping the lines open!
Because of our faculty’s dedication, talent, and strong existing relationships with students, attendance was above 90% throughout the lockdown. Many of our students were home alone – or, worse, babysitting younger siblings – but they usually managed to get to class on time and participate through Zoom. A number of school families were gravely impacted by the disease, and everyone faced disruption. But day after day, week after week, our kids showed up and learned. When we reopened on April 19, they were shy and awkward with one another, but in the weeks before summer school wrapped up on June 18, they’d found contagious joy in being together again, and from just being at school. It was lovely to see and we look forward with all our hearts to resuming school under nearly normal circumstances in August.
The pandemic has taught all of us much. Two innovations from the year like no other will be part of how we operate going forward. One is fostering our students’ natural aptitude for technology – we were astounded by how quickly our kids mastered the mechanics of online schooling – they were soon coaching us through technical issues. Tech skills are, of course, valuable, and we will include more technical instruction and opportunity in the curriculum going forward. A second valuable learning from the pandemic was that our school families are much more comfortable and forthcoming when they can meet with teachers and the principal online – we were in closer, more productive communication with parents during the pandemic than we had been before. We had 100% participation in this year’s parent/teacher conferences, a first. Now we see that this only makes sense – it’s much easier for parents who work several jobs and have numerous children to take a Zoom meeting than to come into school.
We at Imago Dei are grateful to NAES for last year’s grant, for all the funding we’ve received through the years, and for all the resources and opportunities NAES provides. Together, we’re doing the unbelievably satisfying work of educating children in the great Episcopal tradition and seeing them blossom – even in the hardest times.