Our Response to COVID-19
The uncertainty, loss and isolation caused by COVID-19 have only exacerbated the challenging circumstances of many of the children and families we serve. It also deeply affected our own staff, who lived the crisis right alongside the communities they serve.
When Schools Closed: In March 2020, we quickly pivoted and continued all of our services remotely, conducting over 35,000 support sessions while schools were closed. Our staff continues to go the extra mile every day to meet needs both urgent and mundane. From connecting families with food pantries and housing assistance to delivering devices for remote learning and providing tech support, our social workers made sure no child fell through the cracks.
In every school, our social workers have been collaborating with school leadership to address crises, reassess plans, and ensure continuity of counseling and supportive services to vulnerable students. Social work staff have added daily check-ins for students, teachers and staff to supplement the ongoing services they continue to provide. We increased our outreach to families to better understand the challenges they were facing so we could target our assistance and services. We reached out to students by phone and online media, collaborated virtually with teachers to bolster the emotional support offered to students, provided virtual classroom tools and innovative applications to enhance the on-line teaching and learning experience, and provided safe spaces for students and staff to acknowledge the ongoing pain of the national crisis of racism.
We understood fully how deeply disruptive the pandemic was to the lives of our students and families, and at the same time, worked hard to provide some semblance of “normalcy” and routine that our students so desperately needed. Finally, we have supported remote learning, and the turbulent transitions to hybrid learning.
Going Forward: The disproportionate health and economic effects of COVID-19 on communities of color have highlighted the degree to which institutionalized racism is deeply embedded in all areas of NYC life. The stress of the pandemic itself, the economic effects, the grief, loss, and isolation, and the turbulence of school closings have affected vulnerable children the most. The additional losses that children have experienced – in learning, socialization, physical health and emotional development – are vast. The need for schools and the city at large to confront the burgeoning mental health crisis emerging among the city’s school-aged residents may be our most urgent need as we slowly emerge from the shadow of the pandemic.
Over the past year of coping with the pandemic as an organization, we have very clearly articulated our strategic principles based on valuing staff as our most important asset. These four principles have guided our strategic decision-making and planning: Keep our staff intact; maintain long-earned relationships with schools; look for ways to serve more students; and continue work toward an antiracist workplace. We have emerged a stronger organization, ready to take on the challenge of a changed world, to nurture children made even more vulnerable by this difficult year, and to recommit to our values and our belief that all children can thrive.