The Bay Area has passed the one-year mark of sheltering in place due to the coronavirus pandemic. While this milestone doesn’t seem worthy of celebration, we do want to express our gratitude to the many community organizations that are providing essential resources to Oakland families. These incredible nonprofits quickly pivoted last March to help families and children navigate the year’s many uncertainties and hardships, while at the same time they dealt with their own personal pressures.
One of these organizations is High Expectations, an educational consulting firm that helps ensure families and schools are prepared to partner with one another. They do this by equipping families with the tools, resources and skills needed to support children’s academic success. And they also offer professional development to school staff to create a culture where all families feel welcomed and valued. When schools closed last March, the High Expectations’ team leveraged their home and school partnerships to address the numerous challenges of remote learning.
We invited Teneh Weller, Executive Director of High Expectations and a member of the Rainin Foundation’s Community Strategy Council, to reflect on the year and how they responded to assist families.
Reflection by Teneh Weller
There is no doubt that COVID-19 and the shelter-in-place orders brought enormous hardships to many families. The food and housing insecurities that families faced before COVID-19 were only exacerbated in 2020. In response, school districts and community organizations leaped into action to support families with food and technology. State and county agencies discussed ways to coordinate efforts to meet families’ needs.
“Without warning, families were disconnected from the relationships and connections they had with their child’s school.”Teneh Weller
My heart was drawn to a hardship that did not come up in the discussions I participated in. Without warning, families were disconnected from the relationships and connections they had with their child’s school. Children were distanced from their teachers and the consistent academic content that they provided. And their parents were suddenly deemed “homeschool teachers” by news outlets and social media platforms.
Many felt that families were too overwhelmed to focus on their child’s academic success. I kept hearing that academics were not a priority for families right now. I was deeply conflicted. Parents care about their child’s success in school, regardless of what is happening in their lives. Parents were sharing with our team their concerns about their child’s learning loss during school closures. Ed Trust West conducted a survey that found that nearly 9 in 10 parents in California were worried about their children falling behind academically due to coronavirus-related school closures, ranking higher than any financial or socio-emotional concern.
“Our goal was to share strength-based strategies that teachers could use to build relationships with families and increase families’ confidence in their capacity to support their child’s reading progress.”Teneh Weller
I knew that we needed to respond. My organization, High Expectations, decided to offer a free training for teachers on how to engage families in their child’s reading success during distance learning. Our goal was to share strength-based strategies that teachers could use to build relationships with families and increase families’ confidence in their capacity to support their child’s reading progress.
The Kenneth Rainin Foundation reached out to see how they could support this effort. With a small grant, we were able to support pre-kindergarten to kindergarten families directly. We reached out to families to offer books, literacy tools, and strategies that they could use to support their child’s reading success. Families were so excited to participate. During our meetings, they shared the creative ways they were teaching, motivating, and encouraging their child. They shared their challenges with distance learning and learned strategies from one another. Our team was reminded that families already have a wealth of knowledge and abilities. They are resilient and innovative, and they deeply care about their child’s success in school.
“Our team was reminded that families already have a wealth of knowledge and abilities. They are resilient and innovative and they deeply care about their child’s success in school.”Teneh Weller
About The Author
Teneh Weller is the Executive Director of High Expectations Parental Service. High Expectations aims to significantly impact student achievement through increased parental involvement in the educational process. She has vast leadership experience in the fields of education and community empowerment and is dedicated to the development of underrepresented communities.