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Guardians of Atlanta’s Future Thought Leadership

Education During COVID-19: Recover, Re-engage, Reimagine

Featured Image: CIS of Atlanta Site Coordinator Toriano Parker works closely with students at Creekside High School in Fulton County to support their academic journey and to thrive in spite of the pandemic.

By Dorothy Styles

In times of natural disasters, we rely on organizations like FEMA or the Red Cross to respond to emergencies and help make communities whole. So too, Communities in Schools of Atlanta serves as first responders, bridging school districts and the community to resources and opportunities to foster learning.

In the metro region, we work with county school districts in Clayton, DeKalb, and Fulton, as well as Atlanta Public Schools. Our support for each district varies based on the needs of the administrators, teachers, and students. We are collectively responding to a health crisis, learning crisis, economic crisis, and mental crisis all at once.

As external-internal partners, CIS of Atlanta addresses direct, urgent needs within the schools without having to be bogged down by internal bureaucracy. Amid a global pandemic, the sense of urgency is ever pronounced as educators and families alike are struggling to meet the varied needs of learning in a hybrid or virtual classroom. As the nation’s largest dropout prevention program, we remain committed to collaborating with our partners to recover lost students, re-engage them in the school system, and re-imagine education.

In preparation for the new school year, we have worked closely with school administrators to address the hot list – those students who have had zero contact with the district since March 13, the last day of regular, in-person learning. CIS of Atlanta is part of a team of administrators and teachers who use a walk list, going door-to-door to check on these students and their families – much like you would see a politician knocking on doors to hear directly from constituents.

We assess pupils’ needs to identify why they disengaged and match them with the necessary resources to restart their academic journey. Housing insecurity remains a serious concern, mental health another. Where we can’t directly provide resources, we connect students and families with other organizations.

It is imperative to get children in the door – or logged in – so learning begins, to get them the food they need so their brains are ready to learn, and to instill a mindset that learning is important for their future.

While out doing a community walk, one principal in Fulton County called the CIS of Atlanta site coordinator assigned to their school concerned by the lack of face masks being worn by students outside of the classroom. We immediately ordered and delivered 900 masks for the school. A principal in Stone Mountain recently called us when their records showed 450 children have yet to pick up the devices needed for digital learning. Parents and children lacking access to email need to be contacted in an analog manner. To address this, we will order yard signs with instructions on how to access the necessary equipment and place them directly in the community.

Across every sector, businesses and organizations are having to reimagine how to reach their customers. The schools and educators who will do well in the new normal are the ones who are creative in how they stay connected to their audience – students and parents.

At CIS of Atlanta, we are practitioners of collective impact – a place for children, for parents, and for educators. Learning is life-changing, and everyone must continue to see it as such rather than as a chore they begrudgingly and hurriedly complete.

Dorothy Styles is the director of programming at Communities in Schools of Atlanta. CEO Frank Brown refers to her as “his right hand woman.”


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