SB Schools Have Innovative Plans For Culture Of Success
By Daniella Masterson
When this year’s California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) scores dipped for students K-12, it confirmed what educators at San Bernardino City Unified School District (SBCUSD) already knew: The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted learning across the board.
The CAASPP test is just one measure of progress. It is one of several indicators that provide a picture of a student’s progress in school.
SBCUSD scores revealed that approximately 18% of students were proficient in math and 34% were on par in the English Language Arts districtwide. But when broken down by race, particularly African Americans, this group demonstrated the largest gap in proficiency compared to the 2019 metrics.
“Our African American, English learners and homeless youth (who are our highest risk students) faired better than other subgroups,” said Maria Garcia, Communication Officer for SBCUSD.
“While we had hoped to do better on CAASPP, our district faces different challenges than other districts. Despite the challenges, we are still encouraged,” said Garcia who said that the students are resilient and will perform better over time.
Danny Tillman, Vice President of the Board of Education, said the district will use federal stimulus to invest in some of their progressive learning initiatives and resources.
“From now until 2024, we have $70 million in extra funds from the federal government to specifically address academic issues that developed as a result to COVID-19 school closures,” said Tillman.
The funding will create new traditions that gripped students in inequitable practices to give them a chance to flourish. Educators believe these new practices will improve motivation, self-confidence, and an overall sense of achievement. For example, students will be given an instrument and free lessons if they have an interest in music. Tillman said all uniforms, lessons and performance camps for sports and cheerleading will be funded by the district, taking the financial burden off parents.
One of the most innovative resources to come next year will be a Wellness Center, said Garcia. Wellness Centers will support unhoused and low-income families by providing safe space to bathe, launder clothes, receive food, counseling, and medical care.
These are just a few of the new programs the district has implemented to empower students and teachers to get back on track socially and academically.
The district had already been working on ways to close the equity gaps that pre-dated the pandemic. But, before the district could move forward, the pandemic forced them to reprioritize what mattered most – precious lives.
“My goal at the very beginning of the pandemic was not to have someone die, whether they were an employee or a family member because I forced people to go to school,” said Tillman, adding that his “immediate concern” was for the elderly teachers and grandparents who take care of kids because they were at the highest risk to die.
“It took everyone by surprise,” said Renita L. Marshall-Martin, a Program Specialist 4th Grade Demo Teacher at Parkside Elementary School.
“When it did happen, there was an immediate scramble to figure out what we were going to do to help support kids,” she added.
What usually would have taken months if not years to roll out, the district was forced to create an action plan in days to weeks. Education was evolving in real time.
To their credit, the district had already launched a technology initiative to outfit each student with either an iPad or a Chrome Book of their own to work on or share a device on a rolling cart with other classmates at school.
“We had already been on the wave of providing technology, so all of our schools were outfitted with technology in some way shape or form. This happened the summer before COVID-19,” said Marshall-Martin.
Although the devices would prove to be a solution for remote learning, they also brought a host of new challenges – closing the digital divide.
“We had parents who could work their cell phone easily, but when it came to the computer or the iPad, they were very handicapped just to access the lesson plan,” said Marshall-Martin, explaining how low-income families struggle to keep pace with new technology in education. Moreover, many families did not own a computer or have the internet. So, the district provided free mobile hotspots for the students and their family.
What the district didn’t expect was that the devices would enable a closer look at those disparities that hindered Black students’ performance and the difficulty teachers had to develop instruction around those challenges.
“As an educator, I was surprised at what was going on in some children’s homes,” said Marshall-Martin. “When COVID hit, we could literally see what the students were going through.”
Some parents lost their jobs. Some families were homeless. Some families were grieving the loss of loved ones due to COVID.
“We actually had experiences in which the child was on a video conference and people could be heard hollering and screaming in the background, and in a worse situation, the tragedy of a person being shot,” said Tillman.
“All of that trauma was going on during COVID. All of that trauma affects kids’ ability to learn,” he added.
In 2020, some districts were allowing students to return to school, but Tillman said San Bernardino decided that it would be too destabilizing for the students. There were restrictions on class sizes. That meant some students would not be able to return to their homeroom teacher, or worse, be moved to another school.
“We had already settled into remote learning,” said Tillman. “We would lose the students’ sense of stability.”
After two years of remote learning, the district sent the students back to school in 2021.
“When we came back to physical school, it was culture shock for them,” said Marshall-Martin. “Kids had a lot of social issues and had to be reintroduced back into the school setting …And then we took the state test for the first time in two years,” she said.
Garcia said students weren’t prepared for the “ABC’s and the 123’s of things,” explaining one of the reasons for the test score shortfall. Schools had to focus on helping the students to overcome social issues and emotional trauma before real learning could begin. That meant applying new methods to close learning gaps that correlates with the district’s socioeconomic and cultural factors.
At Parkside Elementary, Marshall-Martin said there are several changes in the works. For example, the school has implemented a weekly mentoring program with local leaders for African American boys because they tend to fall through the cracks. They are also developing an African American Parent Advisory Council to engage parents in the learning process.
All schools will be focused on intensive instruction based on students’ individual learning needs. Tillman said students now have the option of staying in the “Virtual Academy” or returning to the physical classroom.