When the doors were locked at the Alternative High School (AHS) on March 16, most thought we would be back in a week or two. School, as we knew it, was on a sudden break, but it was expected that after a thorough cleaning, things would return to normal.
That was a month ago. And yesterday, we learned it will be at least another month.
Just about every single thing has changed since then, except the deep commitment the AHS staff has to the young people they no longer see in their classrooms. The AHS team is doing its best to address students’ academic, mental health, and basic needs.
“Staff has come in staggered shifts to put together any materials they needed for students,” said Principal Erin Piquet. “They have been participating in Google Classroom trainings being offered by Ed Resources and have created Google classrooms for their students. And, what is very important, is they are using emails and phone calls to connect with students on a regular basis.”
The staff members stay connected to each other through digital platforms including Zoom meetings small and large, said Piquet.
Another way staff is connecting, is by sharing information on student interactions and needs on Google. “All staff have been encouraged to provide support by reaching out to students,” said teacher Dion King. “In a time of uncertainty and high anxiety, it is perhaps most important that our students know that we are there for them; even if in a limited capacity.”
To help monitor staff and student contact, some of us have created Google documents to share contact information with each other, said King. “Not only is this a great way to track student and parent/guardian contact, but it has brought staff together that may not have worked together under normal circumstances.”
Customized approaches are successful. Teacher Stephanie Beals has been using interactive whiteboard to support a particular student in her geometry course.
Beyond academics, the AHS students are also supported by the Astor Services staff.
“Our goal is to provide as much support as we can in this time of crisis,” said Salena M. Gray, Deputy Director of Clinical Services for Day Treatment Programs in the Hudson Valley, Astor Services for Children & Families. “All my staff are engaging in tele-health sessions with all their students. We try to use whatever the family has access too.”
Work includes group, individual and family sessions. And, Astor staff works closely with AHS teachers while continuing all treatment planning. “Some of my staff are helping out with the food and educational drop-offs,” said Gray. “It gives them the opportunity to at least see their students, even if it's through a window. This is especially important for students that are considered high risk.”
Food insecurity is also an issue for some AHS families and meeting that basic need is also being addressed by BOCES.
“We have quite a few students who are receiving the food and supplies each week from the donations BOCES has received,” said Piquet. “Many staff members are volunteering in that process. It’s another way of connecting.”
For King, collecting and delivering the donations, led by Cora Stempel, Deputy Superintendent, Piquet, and SPC Principal Melissa Murphy, has been the most rewarding effort over the last few weeks.
“It’s nice to see us all working together. This whole experience has made me appreciate our agency and how we serve our students even more,” said King.
He’s been told by a parent that it's nice to see a familiar face and on occasion a few students have greeted him with a smile.
“I've reached out and talked to several students over the last couple of weeks and they have all said how much they miss our school and they want to come back,” said King. “We can't be there for our students in the traditional sense, but hopefully the work we are doing will have a positive impact on them during this time.”
Michelle Santini, a math teacher at the Alternative High school, spends a little time with her “student teacher,” Weston, as she prepares to grade Algebra B work that was submitted by a student through Google Classroom. Both classes Santini teaches, Algebra B and Financial Math, are accessible through Google Classroom to students. - We have learned Weston specializes in number crunching on Mommy's calculator and supervising data entry.