Newberg school district tackles equity in remote learning
As students throughout the country dive into a virtual school year, equity issues that existed in normal classrooms can become exacerbated. Whether it be access to free and reduced meals, an internet connection or mental health services, remote learning makes serving the underserved all the more difficult.
The Newberg School District is taking tangible steps to fill those gaps and provide as equitable an experience as possible for its students. That process is ongoing, according to district communications coordinator Gregg Koskela.
"We are doing our best to build systems so that every student gets what they need," he said. "That manifests in all kinds of ways. Academically, that was part of the reason we purchased curricula in core class areas. We wanted to purchase stuff that was designed for flexible delivery and has a track record of being used in online or hybrid formats. We want every student, no matter what class they end up in, to have an equitable experience."
Mental health is at the forefront of the district's discussions about equity. Newberg has made it a priority to provide therapy resources for students, checking in on their mental health and connecting them with resources in the community; doing all that in a remote setting just adds another layer to the challenge.
"We know that every student, especially those in our underserved communities, is going to struggle with their mental health in some way," Koskela said. "Not being able to be with friends and with some of the important adults in their life is tough, so we are building a system of support for those students. Counselors and therapists will work with our staff, and we will constantly be checking in on how students are participating, how they are dealing with these changes individually, and how they might be feeling about all of it. We will have time built in the schedule to talk about each kid and what they might need in terms of mental health resources."
During the summer, free and reduced meals have been provided at various sites throughout the district. Some meals have been delivered to homes without reliable transportation and those who qualify have received meals during a time that has been financially straining for many families.
Even those parents who might not otherwise qualify for free and reduced meals can pick up or get delivered something to help feed their kids. Now, thanks to the state government, that will remain the case through the end of the calendar year.
"Food is a really important aspect of this new approach that we've been working hard on," Koskela said. "We will have communication going out to parents that the government has extended the funding for the summer feeding program through the end of the year. Those who didn't qualify for free and reduced lunch were going to have to pay for it as normal, but now we are going to be able to feed all our students who request it, for free."
Internet access and child care are a two-pronged issues that the community and district are tackling in unison. The district is working to get Wi-Fi hotspots to students in partnership with broadband companies, and students are encouraged to continue using the Google Chromebooks that were distributed to them near the end of last year, when the district moved to remote learning at the start of the pandemic.
On the issue of child care, Koskela said some families in the district are creating "ad-hoc child care drop-ins" or internet drop-in locations, and the district is compiling a list of those for students and families who need it. Helping families navigate the tech minefield will be a newly hired technical support staff member, who is bilingual in English and Spanish and can help parents who aren't as tech savvy.
Students for whom English is a second language, along with special-education students, will receive an individualized educational approach this fall applied to the online learning experience.
"The unique thing about special education is that it's very individualized," Koskela said. "Our special ed staff is going full bore right now looking at individual education plans for those students and how they can transition them into an online environment. The same is really true for our EL students who might have unique challenges with the online model that we are working to address with our EL teachers."
Some EL students and others of diverse backgrounds will likely be directly impacted by the district's renewed approach to antiracism in the classroom. After the school board passed a resolution on antiracism, the district has made an effort to teach children about the history of racism in the United States while also taking steps to provide a more equitable experience for students of all backgrounds.
In a conversation about equity, combating racism is of great importance, Koskela said.
"We as staff, when the school board passed the antiracism resolution on June 23, that means we step into action on those issues," he said. "Even as the school board continues to have dialogue about that, we recognize that the resolution has passed, and we are moving forward. Staff have created personal mission statements to decide how they will combat racism in the classroom setting and provide a more equitable experience for all students. When evaluating curriculum, we try to think about how we can provide students with the history of racism and colonialism, and how it impacts our society more broadly today."
For more information on the school district's approach to equity and other issues as remote learning continues, visit www.Newberg.k12.or.us or get in touch with your child's school to learn more.
The school district will continue to post updates on its Facebook and Twitter pages as the school year draws closer, with students returning to virtual classrooms on Sept. 14 throughout the district. In-person classes will not return until the county meets the COVID-19 numbers outlined by the governor.
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