Nonprofit organizations and partnerships can support students during the COVID-19 crisis
With the abrupt closure of schools around the country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many community-based organizations that provide critical supports to students in the school building have had to stop offering services. Others have quickly transitioned to a new way of serving students and have learned some early and important lessons along the way.
Child Trends has been working with youthCONNECT at Suitland High School, a group of nonprofits serving students at Suitland High School in Prince George’s County, Maryland (see “About youthCONNECT” below). The last day of in-person classes in Prince George’s County Public Schools was March 13, 2020, and within a week, youthCONNECT pivoted to serving its students remotely for the remainder of the school year. This blog shares what some of our youthCONNECT partners have learned about serving students during the pandemic.
Keep students connected to a caring adult through regular communication.
During the pandemic, students are trying to adjust to a new academic and social reality. At the same time, they are separated from many of the caring adults on whom they usually rely for support and advice, including teachers, coaches, and community members. Many students find it hard to stay motivated to learn remotely and miss in-person interaction with their teachers. Many also struggle with the lack of routine and structure, finding themselves bored and frustrated. youthCONNECT partners check in with youth at least once a week—in some cases almost daily—to provide encouragement, positivity, and a non-family outlet for them to vent. The Suitland principal and administrators have emphasized the importance of contact between youthCONNECT partners and students during this time, and have expressed their gratitude for the continued social, emotional, and academic support that partners provide.
Be patient and persistent when trying to reach students.
Community partners can no longer go into a classroom to check on a student, conduct home visits, or read a student’s body language when the student insists that ‘everything is fine.’ Early in the shutdown, youthCONNECT partners learned that the mode of communication that one student prefers may not work for another, and that some students will be more resistant to connecting. youthCONNECT partners have tried individual and group text messages, phone calls, social media, and virtual meetings on different platforms to find the mode that works for each student. For students who don’t respond, partners have reached out to family members or through a student’s friends; in other cases, they can enlist school administrators and teachers for help. And some partners have used other approaches: Urban Alliance created an Instagram account to connect with students they hadn’t heard from, and Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers (MMYC) has used food bag delivery as a time to talk to students and families in person from a safe distance.
Transition in-person activities online and take advantage of the unique features of virtual platforms to expand offerings.
youthCONNECT is an initiative developed by Venture Philanthropy Partners, in which a network of nonprofit partners work together to support students to graduate prepared for college and careers. At Suitland High School in Prince George’s County, Maryland, youthCONNECT is made up of five nonprofits: Urban Alliance, Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection (Hillside), Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers (MMYC), Peer Forward, and Year Up. The partners provide a range of services, including individualized case management, mentoring, college preparation, life skills training, and afterschool tutoring.