Strong partnership and open communication between schools, teachers and families are key to student success. Unfortunately, the pandemic increased the difficulty of maintaining connections with underserved students.

As classrooms moved online during the pandemic, a reliable internet connection and availability of a laptop or other device became as essential to public education as schoolhouses and books. As a result, Latino and Black LAUSD students on average were even less active in online classes in the 2020-21 school year, with 67% of Black and Latino middle schoolers consistently active compared to 88-89% of their white and Asian peers.

School2Home, a powerful program that predates the pandemic, helps guide schools and partner with families in underserved communities on how to effectively use technology to enhance the student learning experience. It is spearheaded by UWGLA partner California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), a public benefit foundation established in 2007 by the California Public Utilities Commission to close the state’s digital divide.

The initiative is active in 5 districts and 31 schools, focused on helping close both the achievement gap and the digital divide by targeting California middle schools in underserved communities. School2Home’s integration into Los Angeles schools is an important component of UWGLA’s vision of rebuilding a more just and equitable educational system for all.  

CETF helps schools implement distance learning through School2Home

Before Covid-19, many schools feared making devices available for home use due to concerns about damage or misuse. The pandemic left no room for hesitation. Agustin Urgiles, Executive Manager for School2Home was impressed to see teachers and administrators rise to the challenge. “They stepped up because their students and their families depended on them during these difficult times,” he remarked.

Agustin noted in the School2Home implementation process that “many schools were overwhelmed and needed help developing systems to maximize the impact to enhance the quality of instruction and deepen the overall engagement with parents and families.” Unfortunately, this was especially evident in underserved communities. 

CETF designed School2Home by studying the successes and challenges encountered during previous efforts to increase technology use at underserved schools. Through this process it became clear that schools needed comprehensive support and guidance to establish systems to create a culture of successful technology use and overall academic success. 

To help ease these burdens, School2Home support consists of hands-on guidance for school leadership teams that implements the tools and resources developed by CETF. Tools provided include professional development for school staff, parent education workshops, and device and technology support best practices. Participating schools also have access to both regional and statewide Learning Community networks where schools of similar demographics can talk about best practices and the effective use of technology. 

“We understand that the technology is not the end result but rather a powerful tool that can serve as a catalyst to enhance instructional practices and parent engagement efforts,” Agustin said. “At the same time, there is an opportunity for participating schools to tailor their training, implementation tools and systems based on their instructional priorities and academic objectives.”  Overall, this development of capacity and systems at participating schools enabled them to achieve a higher level of readiness for the implementation of distance learning.

School2Home enhances parent engagement in student learning

Principal Gabriel Duran of Maywood Center For Enriched Studies (MaCES) has worked with School2Home since August 2017, which enabled Maywood to be prepared when distance learning became a requirement for LAUSD. “When this hit, every one of my 1,500 students had hotspots,” Principal Duran stated. 

School2Home helped to ensure consistent access for students. “The resources provided for teachers to facilitate workshops and guidance on how to repair devices were instrumental in ensuring that all of our middle school students had full access to chromebooks and internet at home,” he said. 

Principal Duran identified that a prevalent challenge facing families is the parents’ ability to log into and engage with the parent portal beyond grades and test scores.

“Parents assume that as long as you don’t have a circle or a negative mark, then you’re doing well,” he mentioned. “The reality is that in the parent portal, our teachers are giving feedback to our students. Parents are not inclined to visit those things because often the students keep their parents from it.”

The resources and guidance from School2Home allows teachers to see what students are doing on their computers during instructional time, ensuring students are focused.

Principal Duran expected that distance learning would prevent connection, but he was surprised to see it promote familiarity and comfort. “We were in each other’s homes. We saw our family members, photos, and pets. Being in each other’s homes allowed everyone to build a sense of community,” Principal Duran recalled. “One of our teachers had to have her dog put down, and the very next day all of the students in her class turned on their cameras. They wanted to let her know that she was not alone.” 

In time, the reliable access to technology allowed students and teachers to learn about each other, display high levels of kindness and empathy, and elevate parent engagement.

“School2Home planted the seeds of support for the development of a culture of deeper parent engagement and affordable broadband internet connection,” Principal Duran stated. “The success of the transition to distance learning for our school site is clearly in line with the mission of School2Home to support students and families.”