The coronavirus emergency is testing all of us. For the Boston Public Schools, as with school districts across the nation, the pandemic is challenging our ability to deliver an excellent and equitable education to every child. The disparities that existed before the pandemic are exacerbated even further due to this crisis. We’ve had to rethink and redefine how to get children what they need: the healthy food they depend on, access to technology to continue their learning, educational materials that keep them engaged and motivated, the social and emotional support they’re provided while they’re in school.
On top of all that, our own BPS staff is adapting to the same challenges that our families are experiencing: juggling work from home, lack of childcare and other support systems, the fatigue that comes from the blurred lines between work and home and, perhaps most difficult, the absence of the collaboration and comfort we typically receive from our colleagues, partners, and extended family and friends.
Witnessing the incredible work of my colleagues across the district has been nothing less than inspirational. BPS educators and staff have come to the front lines of this crisis to serve our students by distributing over 29,000 Chromebooks, 1,400 Internet hot spots, and 200,000 free meals. We are reinventing how we support our children. We continue to adapt to our new “normal” with evolving remote-learning plans to ensure we continue to provide meaningful educational opportunities while supporting teachers as they master delivering instruction in this new digital reality.
As much as we’re adapting our work for this new reality, we also acknowledge that a large part of getting through this and mitigating the negative impacts on students will depend on how we support parents. Parents are a child’s first teacher and are, now more than ever, the schools’ most critical partners. As a single mother for 10 years, I know firsthand that it isn’t easy. But there are some tips that I learned along the way that have helped me persevere through challenges.
First, cut yourself some slack. These are unprecedented times, and no one can be expected to handle it perfectly. Remember the rule of oxygen masks on the airplane: Put your own mask on before you put on your child’s. You can’t care for and support your children if you don’t also care for yourself. Be patient with yourself and your child. You know your child best. Love them first, and then everything else will fall into place.
Do your best to establish a routine. Children thrive on routine — and adults do too. Try to create a daily schedule that begins and ends at roughly the same time. I know many parents may be thinking right now, “We didn’t do that before.” But in times of stress, it is even more important for children and teens to be able to have some consistency. The most important thing is to find a way to establish a routine that works for your family.
Stay connected to your child’s teacher. Nothing can replace the classroom experience, but it’s important that parents stay in close contact with their child’s teachers to understand how best to support and enrich their child’s learning. BPS TV, our partnership with Boston Neighborhood Network, provides educational programming to students developed by BPS teachers. Our at-home learning website also offers supplemental learning materials, updated weekly and arranged by grade level.
Don’t forget the joy. Over the course of my career, I’ve worked at every level within a school system, from paraprofessional to teacher to principal to education commissioner. I’ve worked through so many situations that were incredibly challenging for both students and staff. What has carried me through, and what carries me today, are the moments of joy that can be found in real connection with children, whether my own or those in my care within the BPS family. Children are incredibly resourceful and resilient, and while we’re teaching them, they can teach us — to stay present, to remain curious, to ask for help when we need it, and to find and celebrate moments that bring us joy.
We started the school year at BPS bringing the JUICE — Joy, Unity, Inclusion, Collaboration, and Equity. We’re leaning into those values more than ever these days, and we’ll continue to use them to guide our work in the weeks and months to come.
Working together — parents, educators, partners, community partners, faith communities, and more — we cannot only mitigate the disruption this pandemic has created for our students, parents, and public school employees at every level, but we can also learn from it. We have in front of us an opportunity to create new ways to equitably meet our students’ needs.
I’m confident we’re ready to meet the moment and the challenges it brings, and that BPS will emerge stronger than ever, with a clear vision forward and a new collective resolve to ensure that every single child realizes their full potential.
All hands on deck. We’ll get through this together.
Brenda Cassellius is the superintendent of Boston Public Schools.