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City Year rolls out new resources for teachers during COVID-19

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Free distance learning resources for educational equity

City Year and partner Johns Hopkins University are rolling out a collection of free resources to help educators rapidly put in place teaching practices that strengthen students’ connection to school as distance learning stretches into a new academic year because of COVID-19.

City Year released last month the first of three planned guides aimed at providing educators with timely and practical ideas that reinforce students’ sense of belonging, resilience and engagement at a time many may feel adrift. The guides, called seasonal change packages because their release will be timed with fall, winter and spring, respond to educators’ concerns that they lack resources to ramp up social and emotional supports as millions of students begin a new school year learning from home.

“We know the immense stress everyone is going to be under, and the immense time scarcity and resource scarcity, so we’re trying to really get very practical,” Robert Balfanz, director of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University School of Education, told educators at an online gathering releasing the new package.

“Supporting social-emotional needs is easy to say, but it’s really a big undertaking.”

The resources recognize that academic learning loss is not the only challenge facing students and teachers this school year. The stress, loss and disruption caused by COVID-19 affects our mental health, making social-emotional skills, a sense of community and strong relationships between caring adults and students critically important this school year.

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Learn three tips to help support student and teacher mental health and holistic well-being during the pandemic.

Students say communication is key

The fall “change package” includes step-by-step guidance for the start of the school year and following months, including how to develop activities that build emotional and physical strength; ensure students have adult advocates; and create routines for the whole school, whether teaching is online, in person or a hybrid. For example, students, teachers and staff might work together to select a theme song to help all learners mark key moments in the school day, putting in place a routine that’s engaging and motivating for everyone.

During the August launch, educators heard from students including Mariana Burciaga, an incoming freshman in Denver. She said teachers should prioritize fluid communication with students and parents as classes begin again.

“This school year is going to look a lot different from the previous years,” Mariana said via Zoom. “COVID-19 is dramatically changing how students learn.”

Consistent check ins with teachers and online meetings that reinforced a sense of belonging to a school community last spring helped Mariana overcome the challenges of distance learning and having to help take care of younger siblings during the school day. She was the keynote speaker for her graduating eighth grade class at Compass Academy, a charter public middle school co-founded by City Year and Johns Hopkins University School of Education in 2015.

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Read more about how Compass Academy is keeping students engaged during the pandemic.

City Year’s new Action Community network

City Year and Johns Hopkins also plan to bring together smaller groups of education leaders throughout the year to share experiences, collaboratively problem-solve, track progress, and receive coaching on implementing practical strategies to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on young learners.

The new network, called the Action Community, will report back periodically on strategies that have been effective at promoting students’ sense of belonging and engagement in an effort to share them with the broader education community.

The community expands City Year networks aimed at helping educators share promising ideas and practices. City Year’s District Learning Network promotes collaborative problem-solving among some of the leaders of the 350 public schools served by City Year AmeriCorps members. Also, in partnership with Johns Hopkins and with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, City Year convenes a growing network of schools, called the Network for School Improvement (NSI), that allows educators to share promising ideas that boost student outcomes.

Check out and share our fall change package and find more resources to support student success during COVID-19 on our publications page.

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