By Kate Kaufman
Dear Governor Sisolak:
When you issued the order two Sundays ago for schools to close, my immediate concern was for my students and their families. I thought about Juan, who is homeless and Maria, who won’t have enough to eat without the meals that the school provides. I thought about all of the kids who rely so much on the school and the classroom routines.
My worries are two-fold. First, I worry about basic needs. Would students have enough to eat? Would they have access to healthcare if needed? What about reliable transportation? While families provide what they can, many of our students depend on schools to fill in the gaps for breakfasts and lunches.
Second, I worry about the social emotional needs of my students. Who would uphold the behavior systems and rewards we have at school? Who would take care of them when their parents are at work (if they still have a job)? Who would listen to their stories, set goals with them and monitor their social emotional growth?
Many families provide excellent support for their children and address these needs. The reality is, though, many families cannot or do not meet them.
You need to issue more directives to teachers on the front lines of this crisis. As teachers, we need to supply resources to address social emotional needs. We need to take care of students who have Internet access and those who don’t. We need clear guidance and protocols for how this is to be done. Otherwise, some teachers simply won’t.
Since last Sunday, I have called each of my students and posted videos and links in Google classroom. I’ve shared resources online and via phone. I know there are food sites for students. I know there is utility assistance and a federal relief bill in the works.
However, in a state that deals in mining, hospitality, and tech, we need to do more for our students, many of whom have immediate family members who have lost their jobs and income. How are we going to help the children who need emotional support?
This is what I believe you should do:
- Develop a communication protocol for teachers so we know how to best communicate with ALL students. We need to direct information from the state about which resources to employ, how often, and to which extent. This is uncharted territory for everyone, I know, but teachers need guidelines.
- Establish a teacher leader criteria, and let us get to work disseminating information to students and staff. Teachers who have specific skill sets, such as technology coordinators, or experience need to lead other teachers.
- Push resource lists directly to teachers via school email so we can relay the information to our students and families.
- Use teachers who have the skills to communicate with students and their families to provide links to community resources. This way, we can get it out to vulnerable students quickly.
- Instruct districts to create phone trees, email lists, and video conferencing capabilities so we can share resources with other staff
Many teachers are already doing these things. The leadership and collaboration I have seen from my colleagues is staggering, but it is still not enough.
You did the right thing for Nevada by closing schools and non essential businesses. As we continue to try and mitigate this pandemic, I ask you to do the right thing again: rely on teachers as the leaders we are. Empower us to reach out to our school families and provide social emotional support for all students.
Kate Kaufman teaches 6th-8th grade special education in the Specialized Learning Disabled program at KNO Knudson Academy of Creative Arts and Technology. She is a 2019-2020 Teach Plus Nevada Policy Fellow