As a former high school teacher, I am convinced that it only takes one adult to help a student stay connected and on track. In the district I lead, we find our shared purpose in our Highline Promise: to know every student by name, strength, and need so they graduate prepared for the future they choose. Despite the dedication and hard work of our staff, however, I knew that too many students still did not feel connected to an adult in their school community. With the pandemic it became more important than ever for us to ensure this connection for every student.
Prior to March 2020, we knew we had a digital divide that prevented too many of our students from accessing their learning from home. After years of debating the pros and cons of a 1:1-device initiative, we suddenly found such a program necessary so that our students could connect to their teachers and classmates and attend school. As COVID-19 spread across the country, we scrambled, somewhat MacGyver-style, to deploy over 13,000 devices to students who did not already have a suitable device at home. Devices alone were not enough, however. Without reliable home broadband access our students could not connect with their teachers and classmates.
Thanks to fundraising by our Highline Schools Foundation and partnerships within our community, we have been largely successful in bridging our digital divide. But we also knew that something else was preventing students from remaining connected to their school community: a relationship divide. So, at the same time as we launched a 1:1-device initiative, we also launched a 1:1-student-staff-connection effort.
We asked our principals and school teams to ensure that every student have a 1:1 connection with a staff member who would check in with them weekly. It has not been easy, and we have learned many lessons that will shape our 1:1 connection efforts in the coming school year.
Recognizing that some students need more support than others, we are now taking a tiered approach and asking school staff to identify the frequency of check-ins based on each student’s needs. We will continue to learn and adapt so that every student feels seen, heard, and supported in our schools. We can no longer leave this to chance.
Connection matters in times of crisis. But once the crisis subsides, our commitment to ensuring every student is known by name, strength, and need must not waver. We have seen what is possible when we choose—or are compelled—to focus on the harsh realities facing many of our students and families. It is now time for us to move from reacting to acting on the permanent changes needed to make the education system truly equitable.
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