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Staying connected to students and families during COVID-19

 

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Over the past two decades, the way that schools connect with our communities has become much more multifaceted. I’m in my 12th year as a technology director in Fort Sam Houston ISD, and prior to that, I was the principal of a secondary campus.

When I started as principal, we communicated with stakeholders via email and the local newspaper -- and that was about it. Then we got a website. 

Then all of the sudden schools were on Facebook, then Twitter, then Instagram. Then we had instant text message communication through various tools. These days, we have to send out messages in a variety of ways to make sure they reach everybody.

Our district is different from others because we’re located on a military installation. The boundaries of our district are the same as the boundaries of Fort Sam Houston, which is the medical training facility for all of the Army. 

One wonderful aspect of our situation is that for students to attend our school their parents have to be in the military, so we have 100% employment. All of our parents and students have access to the internet. They all have an email address.

On the other hand, military families have a high mobility rate. Kids are moving every two to three years and there's a lot of deployment. 

At any given time, about one-third of our kids have a parent away from home for an extended period of time. That really changes the way that we need to communicate with parents. Here’s how we make sure that we reach all of our families.

Connecting with families around the block or around the world

Parents want to stay a part of their child's education no matter where they are. Being able to post work on our website and on social media is a huge benefit to us. We don't wall off our domain, so our students can share their Google Docs with their parents' military address so that parents can still help them with their essay, even if they're in Iraq or Germany or somewhere else in the world.

Having to share information outside the school district changes the whole dynamic of how we communicate. If we have a perfect attendance assembly, we livestream it to make sure the parents who are overseas can watch and still be a part of that educational experience.

Maintaining community in the age of COVID-19

When we were closing physical schools in response to COVID-19, we were prepared to quickly share information. The first place we posted our school closure was on our Edlio website. Using the Edlio Social Media Manager, we were able to push that out to Facebook and Twitter, too. 

Then I very quickly created a new section on our website called “COVID-19 Resources and Information.” That's where we've been posting all of the information about school closures and the free meals that we're offering. We also have helpful hints for parents on how to handle remote learning and updates on how the schools are going to keep kids engaged.

Overnight, we went from having the word “COVID-19” nowhere on our website to having a dedicated page front and center. It’s the central location for all the information parents need to work through the education side of this horrible pandemic.

Since the schools have closed, everyone is working remotely. I'm going into the office once a week simply to swap out Chromebooks if there's damage or if we have a new student. Our school teachers started teaching remotely or using Google Classroom to post information. 

I have sent out more parent emails in the last two weeks than in the rest of the whole year combined. We’re sending more voice blasts and posting more information on the website and through social media. We’re staying as connected to our community as we can.

Our teachers are doing an incredible job creating engaging ways to keep these kids connected to learning -- but more importantly, connected to each other and their teachers. Is school truly happening like it was before? No. We simply can not deliver content in exactly the same way, but our principals have done a great job letting the teachers know not to stress about the content as much as making personal connections with the students.

Some students are scared, especially the younger ones. For them to see that consistency -- for them to have that connection to their teachers -- is very important. No matter what lines of communication we use, our focus is on the unique military stressors that our families face -- and making sure we’re taking care of their social and emotional needs. We are proud to serve those who serve.

 

Roland Rios is the technology director for the Fort Sam Houston Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas, where they used Edlio to build and maintain their website.

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