I’ll never forget that feeling of heading into the complete unknown when New York Public Schools first closed due to the spread of a global pandemic. Overnight, our classrooms were empty. Technology became our lifeline to reach students and families. As a New York City public school founder and principal, I immediately began work to transition to virtual learning for 3- to 11-year-olds. But the most urgent question that flashed through my mind was: How are we going to make sure our children have the basics such as food?
At my elementary school in the Bronx, 86 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-priced school lunch. The pandemic has disrupted more than just learning for our scholars (that’s what I like to call our students). It has disrupted our ability to provide for their health and wellbeing.
Nearly a year into a global pandemic, we have honed the following virtual learning strategies to address the most fundamental needs of our scholars and their families during a crisis.
1. Use surveys to check on basic needs like access to food.
In the first few months of the pandemic, my first priority was to establish a quick way to communicate with families and gain critical information about their home situations. Once a week, we used an app called Kinvolved to text families a survey checking in on access to food, technology, and wi-fi. This has become an important way to engage with families, and we continue the practice today.