Friday, March 12, 2021

School reaches out to students in pandemic

Lafayette International School

By Hannah Turnbull

            Education in America was severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. As schools across the country closed, students found themselves thrust into the world of virtual learning. The transition to online learning was a difficult one for many students. For English language learners, the changes were far more substantial.

       Lafayette International School, 370 Lafayette Ave., is a school comprised completely of English language learners in grades 9-12.    

            The services provided at Lafayette extend far beyond academics. The school focuses on meeting the physical, emotional, and mental needs of each student. Many of the students have just moved to the United States and need a support system to help them adapt. When the school was forced to close due to the pandemic, the staff sought ways to continue their services.

            “We really went into triage mode,” Principal John Starkey said.

           Starkey immediately looked to meet the students’ immediate needs.

            “Our first priority was looking at the socio-emotional and economic needs of our students,” Starkey said.

            One of the most important tasks was figuring out how to continue serving three daily meals to students. Many students and their families face economic hardships, and Lafayette seeks to relieve some of their financial burdens. The school opened 22 grab and go sites throughout the West Side, where families could come pick up breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

            After reestablishing a nutrition source for students, the next priority was delivering the same quality of education to each student. Connecting with students proved to be one of the most challenging obstacles to overcome. Many families do not have access to reliable technology or Wi-Fi to accommodate online learning. After teaming up with Spectrum, around 700 Wi-Fi systems were given and installed in students’ homes. Staff at Lafayette paid home visits to the hard-to-reach students and assisted in the Wi-Fi installation.

            A mass distribution of iPads and laptops was organized to provide each student with a vessel to online learning. After connecting to each student and assuring they have the right equipment, it was time to begin the transition to online learning.

            “We had to figure out a way to deliver the same quality of learning while acknowledging that in-person teaching is contingent with relationship building,” Starkey said.

            Going from attending school daily to remote learning was a very difficult adjustment for English learning students. Lafayette is home to students placed in the lowest three levels of ESL. Initially many students found themselves frustrated and confused by the platforms of online learning. Keeping the students engaged in online learning was a difficult task. The school focused on peer collaboration, screen sharing, and breakout rooms with individual tutoring to keep the students on track with their learning.

            “I think missing the opportunity to have one-on-one clarification and expansion has been really detrimental,” Elizabeth Kuttesch, a teacher at Lafayette, said.

            Teachers at Lafayette have sought to maintain their relationships with students. Home visits and daily phone calls to families are made to regulate the well-being of students. 

            But for students, nothing quite replaces physically coming to school. For 10th  grader Laviba Akther, it’s the connections made at school that are missed the most.

            “I miss sitting and having breakfast and lunch with my friends and doing the after-school program with them,” Akther said.

            The relationships made at Lafayette are crucial to the development of students. Coming to school provided an outlet for meeting people and making friends as well as forming connections with staff.

            “Many of our students were traumatized that they weren’t allowed to come into the building,” Starkey said. 

            While Lafayette’s priority is education, the school encompasses all of the other factors that affect education. Ensuring that the students are healthy, safe, and happy is a part of its  motto. Lafayette is a safe haven for these students, and trauma only begins to explain their feelings when their school closed.