As schools in Sacramento enter their second week of online learning and over a month off campus, districts are accounting for students and finding that some have fallen through the cracks.
For Sacramento City Unified, the district found that about 1,600 students had not been contacted since the coronavirus stay-at-home orders shut schools in mid-March. Now, the district is looking to increase its outreach.
“We’re very committed to making sure that we identify those students that we have not been able to locate,” Superintendent Jorge Aguilar said. “We serve a very vulnerable population of students, and even beyond that I would say that for students who are engaged, that we’re also very committed to making sure that their social and emotional well being is healthy.”
This week, in addition to having staff make calls to parents, friends and family members and making home visits, they will also be putting out surveys asking students about their emotional and physical wellbeing during quarantine.
“It’s a survey that asks a variety of questions," Aguilar said. "Did you participate in district learning, do you have food or basic needs, do you have any emotional support needs? And we’re actually going to be adding, are you ok?”
The district will also be partnering with non-profit Sacramento ACT to create a hotline for parents or members of the district to call if they felt in danger or knew of someone who was. Sacramento ACT and the district plan to release this number when it is available.
About 70 percent of the district’s 40,000 students qualify for free and reduced lunch, a number the district uses to quantify how many students who would qualify as “at risk.” The district added that additional factors such as housing insecurity, lack of technology and not speaking English as a primary language can also make outreach to a specific student difficult.
Larry Ferlazzo is a teacher at Luther Burbank High School, a school of about 1,700 students. He said that he just recently was able to get in touch with the last student in his class. He teaches English Language Learners, where he said moving classes online has been a transition for his students, especially when most don’t speak English at home.
He said that right now the school is still looking to contact "probably a couple hundred students, if not more."
“There are issues of changed numbers, changed addresses” Ferlazzo said. "I don’t begrudge families not returning my calls, if a family’s in a crisis situation where they may not have enough food and they’re trying to deal with the fact that they may have lost their jobs. I don’t blame them for putting their call back to me very low on their priority list.”
He added that his school has been doing particular parent-group outreach as well to try to catch students who haven’t responded in other ways.
Other districts — such as San Juan Unified, Natomas Unified and Folsom Cordova — haven’t been keeping as close of a count on numbers of students who haven’t been contacted since school closures began.
In San Juan Unified, however, Principal Amy Rovai Gregory of Greer Elementary reported similar issues in reaching students. She said at the start of the coronavirus closures, teachers at her school of 560 students were unable to contact about 100. But she said over the past six weeks, the staff has been able to contact all but six.
“We started right away with fliers posted in various apartment complexes around us, and identifying a main parent contact in those apartments,” Rovai Gregory said. “We had fliers created that we hand out at the food bank pickups each week so anybody coming through those lines has a contact form if they haven’t been in contact with a teacher.”
She added that they’ve also started incentivizing parents and students to log into school, much like incentivizing in-person attendance, by offering grocery giveaways and toys for those who do check in.
“We’ve had to get creative in the way we do outreach,” she said. "We’ve created a school YouTube channel, found main parent contacts to make them main communications liaisons."
She said Greer Elementary has about 95 percent of its student population who qualify for free and reduced lunch. San Juan Unified said they have not yet compiled numbers on students who haven’t been contacted by the district.
Rovai Gregory believed that districts with higher levels of students in poverty would be struggling more with keeping track of students because of a number of risk factors.
“Our biggest barrier is a lot of families that have lost out on their income and sources of food and so they’re having to double up into other peoples’ houses and we lose that ability to find them, so that’s been another challenge,” she said. “We call the emergency contacts on their emergency card, leave messages with neighbors, just ways so they know we’re not giving up on them.”
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