The challenges facing our education sector are revealing. From overcoming technology barriers to fulfilling the basic needs of our families, the students, parents, teachers, and providers within our community are working hard to create a constant learning environment for our children. With all this effort, the question remains: how can we adapt and innovate to transform these challenges into lasting opportunities that reflect our genuine care and value for education?
In a virtual panel discussion, four community partners alongside the Community Foundation of Sarasota County’s Kirsten Russell, Vice President of Community Impact, and Nicole Light, Education Officer, shared valuable insights and lessons learned on how our community can respond and thrive as we approach the upcoming 2020-2021 school year. All the programs described below were designed to meet students where they are and help sustain learning gains, and each has set forth criteria to measure success and share results.
Summer 2020 BOOST Program
Chris Renouf, Executive Director of Elementary Schools, Sarasota County Schools
Evolving from months of remote learning experiences, BOOST is an all-virtual learning program serving 1,500 students in grades 2-5 throughout all 23 Sarasota County elementary schools. During the month of June, students received personalized lessons five times a week led by a certified Sarasota County teacher, with technology provided by the district. Participation in the program was based on predicative scores and school recommendations, and student progress and success were shared with their assigned teachers.
Though adapting to the virtual environment continues to be a challenge, Renouf shared several silver linings that arose from these virtual experiences. In more ways than one, everyone – from teachers to school administrators – all modeling life-long learning, taking in and acting on information right alongside students. Despite being largely remote, schools feel more connected to families than ever before as lessons are more personalized, meaningful, and relevant to students. The biggest lesson learned? Serving and supporting students and families in a responsive manner, as everyone’s needs are going to differ.
Booker High School E-Tutoring & Mentoring Program
Khea Davis, At Risk Specialist, Booker High School
With an emphasis on enrichment and engagement, Booker High School’s E-Tutoring Program connects high school mentors with elementary school students through 1:1 sessions that build meaningful relationships and create “lightbulb moments” for all participants. Initially a collaboration between Booker High School and Emma E. Booker Elementary School, this collaborative program expanded to three more Title 1 Schools – Alta Vista, Gocio, and Tuttle elementary schools – serving more than 50 students through two summer sessions, each lasting four weeks.
As students became more engaged, so did their families. Davis noted that parents have become more responsive and active in connecting to their students’ learning, especially in elementary school. For the high school mentors, the experience was an “eye-opener,” as many could relate to the younger students’ experiences while also realizing that every student learns differently. As Davis noted, this mentor-mentee relationship is key to sustaining engagement and ultimately enriches lives.
Great Futures Academy
Dawn Page, Vice President of Operations, Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County
The Great Futures Academy at Boys & Girls Club of Sarasota County provides learning support extracurricular activities for more than 660 students who are either attend a Title I school or are a child of a local first responder. During two summer sessions, students receive three hours of academics in small groups led by certified teachers, covering subjects such as math, journaling, and technology, before diving into enrichment activities. Families also remained engaged, whether with social workers to identify needs or with community partners to appropriately connect them to resources.
Although Great Futures Academy normally serves around 2,000 students through its summer program, Page found that the smaller group size gave her team the ability to address individual needs and more closely bond with their kids. What she also discovered should not come as a surprise: children need their social time and friendships to feel whole. Yet more than anything, Page remarked that our students are unbelievably resilient, and everyone should feel encouraged that the future of our community is in good hands.
This Book is Cool!
Beth Duda, Director, Suncoast Campaign for Grade Level Reading, The Patterson Foundation
Designed to foster a love of reading and learning for children Pre-K through 3rd grade, This Book is Cool! is a weekly web series highlighting exciting books, new vocabulary words, fun activities, and special community guests. Over 10 weeks, the web series has had more than 1,000 students in our four-county region enroll, each receiving copies of the featured books to help build their own home libraries. To date the web series has garnered an astounding 19,564 views.
While these numbers are remarkable, Duda believes the true impact of This Books is Cool! lies in its connectivity. With each episode, the program reinforces the idea that students truly want to learn, with their families robustly participating as one collective whole, and that there is strong interest in experiential learning across generations and disciplines. The importance of helping families overcome hard and true obstacles such as technology barriers, transportation, and a general feeling of being overwhelmed was not lost on Duda’s team, and these efforts provided valuable opportunities for people to reach out to people and engage in relationship building.
What Comes Next: Collaborate, Personalize, Anticipate
Despite the uniqueness of each one of these programs, all panelists shared a core belief in the power of collaboration and personalization. In a time when families may feel isolated, community partnerships can be a reassuring force, reminding them that support is beyond just one entity. Moving forward, these partnerships will need to anticipate and remain nimble, especially in the realm of social and emotional support.
Education is about so much more than academics. It touches social-emotional learning, creates spaces for real connection, and most importantly, supports children and families where they are so they feel empowered to succeed. We’ve all heard “It takes a village to raise a child," but perhaps over the course of this crisis, panelist Khea Davis noted, our villages are expanding beyond the schoolyard fence to become a robust network of interconnected communities, embracing adaptability and innovation to enrich the lives of all students.