How my son’s school helped me navigate his special education needs during COVID-19
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Parenting during COVID-19 can feel overwhelming. While managing worries about our family’s health, financial and emotional well-being, we were also responsible for homeschooling and ensuring our children continued learning, which is a heavy weight to carry. As we navigated these pressures, I gained a newfound appreciation for the invaluable role our schools and teachers played as true partners in helping to lighten this load.
When the stay-at-home orders were first announced, I was nervous about what that would mean for my 17-year-old son, who is autistic. I was unsure if I would have the tools to give him what he needs to stay on track with his education. Gratefully, the team at Alliance Marc and Eva Stern Math and Science School, a public charter school, immediately stepped in with information and resources to allay my fears about how our son’s education would continue seamlessly.
On the very first day we learned of our school closure, my son and his classmates were sent home with a Chromebook, charger and instructions for what to expect next as we made the shift to distance learning. Since then, our school shared information regularly through workshops, bilingual town halls, the ParentSquare app, texts and direct calls from teachers and counselors. By overcommunicating and inviting questions and feedback from families, our school was responsive to our needs and concerns and addressed them accordingly.
For me, as a parent of a child with special needs, that has made all the difference. In addition to my son’s advisory teacher regularly meeting with him and his classmates via Google Classroom, the special education teacher was in constant communication with our family checking in on my son academically and identifying resources for social and emotional support. She even worked with our family to modify my son’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) due to distance learning — for example, specifically providing alternative options for completing assignments for his science class — and she met with him weekly to go over it.
Beyond academics, the school has proved itself to be a vital community partner and support to so many families who are experiencing economic hardships. Starting with providing technology and hotspots for students, who otherwise may not have been able to access distance learning, the school closed an essential gap in making digital classrooms a realistic option. And the school has addressed concerns about food insecurity by connecting families to breakfast, lunch and dinner “grab and go meals.” The school has even made families aware of opportunities to apply for supplemental financial support through debit cards, providing step-by-step instructions and encouraging them to apply.
Since many families were juggling work and homeschooling, our school provided an extra layer of support by offering afterschool programming, which included yoga and American Sign Language classes, as well as counseling services and tutoring in English and math, all conducted through Zoom. And whenever needed, students also had the opportunity to access school counselors and school psychologists, if they were experiencing mental health issues or not adjusting well to online learning.
After several months of distance learning, I could honestly say that my son not only felt relaxed, but through this experience he demonstrated more initiative and independence in accomplishing his schoolwork.
We first decided to send our kids to Alliance Stern MASS — our daughter is a 2019 graduate — because it offered more structure, smaller classrooms and a more appealing curriculum than our traditional local school. We had no idea what an important and consequential decision that would be. That choice to seek out a school that would provide more individualized attention and creativity in addressing the educational needs of my son, gave us a lifeline through this COVID-19 crisis.
- Read more: Sullivan: Unless we act now, the students most disadvantaged by school closures will be even more so when schools reopen
Luz Celaya, is a parent ambassador at Alliance Marc and Eva Stern Math and Science School and has a son enrolled at Stern MASS.