This article was originally published on May 21, 2021 by MontcoToday.
By April Thomas, Chief Schools Officer, TLC
This has been a school year like no other.
My name is April Thomas and I am the Chief Schools Officer at The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth.
That means I am in charge of leading the Leadership Academy and Choices Program at TLC.
After the building shutdown in spring 2020, my teachers and I all hoped that the 2020-2021 school year would be a return to something closer to “normal.”
Instead, we faced even more challenges in schools, figuring out how to simultaneously teach students who were in person and also teaching students virtually with a raging pandemic still among us.
We have worked together through change, fear, and loss while trying to establish and maintain relationships at school from behind masks, and now, it finally looks like we are going to make it through the end of this unique and challenging school year.
Teachers and students will soon enjoy a much-needed summer break.
School leaders are tasked with using the summer break to reflect on the lessons learned this school year and to plan for the challenges of the one ahead.
At TLC, we have begun this process of reflection, and in the spirit of continuous improvement, have started our journey of discovering how to strengthen our programs to meet the needs of our school community.
Here are two areas we hope to target in the coming year:
- The summer slide may not just be about academics. Every summer break brings with it the risk of students losing some of what they have learned during the school year.
This summer, our concern extends to the mental health and socio-emotional toolkits our students developed throughout the school year.
All students have had to endure a lot in this past year, but for those who already carry the extra burden of mental health or learning difficulties, the challenges can be overwhelming.
We want to acknowledge that an academic slide is likely for students and we want to be prepared to fully support the non-academic needs of students when they return in the Fall.
This support may include finding creative ways to partner with community organizations and utilizing our school staff resources to prioritize filling any emotional and mental health gaps that may exist.
- We need to rebuild relationships. Creating a school culture where students feel connected to one another and to the staff is key to student success. It is the cornerstone of TLC’s Transformational Education® model.
The design of the program this year changed to meet COVID safety requirements, and that came with a cost of decreased opportunities to connect with one another.
There were less casual conversations, no in-person field trips, no visiting guest speakers, fewer community engagement and service activities, and less in school community meetings.
As the nation begins to relax some of the restrictions, we are committing to embedding increased opportunities to connect with our students through our academic programming.
Additionally, we plan to develop and implement a robust student leadership training and development program that will place our students at the forefront of some of our community engagement efforts.
Additionally, we must be intentional to create space for student choice and voice in the programming, to balance our requests for them to listen and comply for the sake of safety.
We realize the road beyond the pandemic and ahead of us may be challenging, but we are prepared to work hard to maintain a supportive school culture that is student- centered and progress- focused.