Giving Compass' Take:

• Community schools in NYC and Long Island are making strides in adjusting to COVID-19 by partnering with local organizations to provide services to students and families during this time. 

• How can donors help solidify or expand these community partnerships during the pandemic? 

• Read this case study on community schools. 

For the past six years, FHI 360 has worked with community schools in New York City and Hempstead, Long Island. When COVID-19 hit earlier this year, the way we did our work immediately shifted away from focusing on in-person supports for students and families. Our first hurdle was bridging the digital divide, that gap between who has access to technology and the internet— and the skills to use them — and who doesn’t.

The vast majority of the students in our schools, up to 99 percent, are Black, Latinx or Asian. Almost all of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, which means their household incomes are below 130 percent of the poverty line. Many of our students and families did not have the technology or connectivity for remote learning, and we needed to make sure every student had what they needed to attend classes online.

The teachers also needed support. We mobilized FHI 360 staff and school leadership to train them on the best ways to teach in virtual spaces and engage students online. We also created a help desk that teachers, school staff, students and families could use for technology support. The digital divide does not begin and end with students — it was essential that teachers be well prepared for moving classes online.

Because the schools we work with are community schools, our responsibility to students goes beyond making sure they have access to their classes. Community schools focus not just on academic learning, but also on developing the whole child. The strategy of community schools is geared toward actively engaging families and partnering with organizations to provide students and their families access to health care services, after-school programs, mentoring, mental health services and parenting support.

Read the full article about community schools by Kari Kraus and Jasmin Sowell at degrees.