“My biggest fear is that those kids are not going to get caught up."
“We found out over spring break that we were not coming back. We scrambled to come up with some kind of education for the students. We wound up doing packets with most of them. Some of them already had an online program, so they continued with that and finished the year. But most of the others were doing packets. The families would come by and pick the packets up once a week from us. That’s how we finished out the remainder of our year.
Then we were told no summer school. So we took the summer to try to make a plan, a good game plan, of how we can actually educate these kids because we didn't feel like they were getting an education. They were getting a packet and whether they did it or they didn't, we really didn't know.
We took all summer long looking at new avenues of how we could do this and training our teachers. We opted for Google Classroom, so we thoroughly trained our teachers with Google Classroom. They came in once every two weeks for a couple of hours. Some came in every week for a couple of hours so they could extensively learn how to use Google Classroom. They had to learn how to video themselves, and then upload it to Google Classroom, and make assignments. That's how we decided to do our delivery when they decided we couldn't come back at the beginning of the school year because our county case numbers were just too high.
At that point, we started scrambling with, ‘Okay, how do we make sure that every kid has Internet, and what if they don't have Internet? What do we do?’ Fortunately, the majority of the kids had access to Internet or could get it free because lots of providers around here were making it free for families, at least throughout the first couple of months.
A lot of the local businesses that have Wi Fi had told the kids, ‘Hey, come sit in our parking lot, you can use our WiFi.’ And the local library said ‘you can pick it up from outside.’ And there's a little nutrition shop in town, they said ‘you can pick ours up from the street.’ So our community just kind of rallied to get these kids the things that they needed. Of course, our district did the technology grant and bought more Chromebooks.
The Muskogee Creek Nation did a technology based grant for all of their citizens. If you were Creek and you lived in their district and you could prove you were going to school, they gave you the money. It was very well publicized. They had it out everywhere, so everybody could find it. My child is Creek, so he received $850 and bought a state-of-the-art laptop.
Since he didn’t need the Chromebook from the school, that freed up one that could be given to another student. There were some delays in getting the Chromebooks, so it helped when the Creek students didn’t need theirs. We just got our last round of Chromebooks in last week. Our district is rather large, so we would get 150, 200, but then we were still waiting on 400-500 more to come in. They came in little lots, which is why, at the beginning, it was one per household. If you had three or four kids, they were gonna have to share it for a little while. But at this point, we finally got everything we need in and every kid that needs one has one.
As a high school counselor, I’ve been more worried about how the students are doing academically than with the guidance portion of my job. The guidance portion they seem to be working out pretty well, talking with each other, sharing information. I wish it were different and I could help more, but they seem to be leaning on each other. The academics, that’s where they are struggling. They’re struggling with it being different. They're used to being in a classroom, they're used to having a teacher tell them every day, do this, do this, do this. I've seen a decline in their grades. And I worry about academic failure and then trying to make that up for them to graduate on time. I’ve never had a fifth year senior. All my kids have graduated on time. I may have been seeing them every day, I may have been chasing them down, begging, borrowing, and pleading, but I've not had a fifth year senior. I'm very fearful that this will be my first group with fifth year seniors because they're behind and I'm afraid some of them are not going to catch up.
Now that we’re back face to face this week, I’ve already had several students come in and say, ‘I'm drowning, what do I do?’ ‘How do I fix this? ‘How do I get caught back up?’ ‘What do I do from here?’
They only have nine weeks with me. We end our semester in nine weeks. We were online for a full nine weeks and now we've just gone back. So they've already used half of the semester and they’re behind and, you know, they may have an F coming into this. I only have nine more weeks to try to encourage them. Their teachers encourage them to get that grade up to passing. But if they don't, and they fail, then we only have one more semester left of school to try to do a whole year's worth of work. And that's my biggest fear is that those kids are not going to get caught up. And then in January, we're going to be scrambling, trying to get things done for May, and we're not going to be able to accomplish it. And then they're going to have to come back to me next year as fifth year seniors.
I check eligibility every Thursday when the eligibility sheet comes right to me. And it's not just for our athletes, we do it for our entire high school. Teachers are required to give two grades every week. So every week, I can kind of look and say, ‘Are these kids going up, are they going down?’ ‘Do we need to call parents?’ ‘What do I need to do?’ ‘Do I need to call coaches or whoever I can think to try to light a fire under them?’ So I see that every single week.
As far as applying to colleges, I usually meet with them face to face. Now I'm having to depend more on their emails, which they have to check every day. The emails are tied to their Google account, which was how they were doing their work before they came back. So I've been pushing a lot more of that out. And we have an app called Remind that's a texting app. I text them, ‘Hey, I just emailed y'all something, check your email,’ or ‘Hey, there's deadlines coming soon,’ or whatever it may be.
So I've had to do a lot more of that digitally. Honestly, to me, it seems that's working a little bit better than just me standing up there telling them, ‘Come on guys, you got to do this.’ With emails, they're visually seeing it, not just hearing it. So they're seeing the deadlines, they're seeing the dates, they're getting the links for where they need to go to do things. So I really think it's kind of helping. It's something, I think, we're going to add. I’m still going to have my face to face interaction with them, and still have my meetings and try to encourage them. But I think I'm going to continue to push what I get from all of these colleges directly to them and to their parents, so they can see it. So I think that will help a little bit.
I'm kind of a one stop shop office, I do the academic, I do the guidance, and I do support. I usually have a pretty good relationship with I would say about 50% of the juniors and seniors because they're in and out of my office a lot. Those kids will come find me. If they have an issue, they'll be standing in my doorway, ‘Hey, are you busy?’ I am, of course, but I will drop what I'm doing at that given time. I will visit with them about whatever it may be. That's my role. They come first, so whatever their needs are, I will stop and address it.
My staff is really good about letting me know if they see an issue because there are some kids that may never walk through my door. They just don't, you know, for whatever reason. But my staff will email me and then I try to seek out those kids and try to get them to talk to me. If they go talk to somebody else, often that person will reach out to me to ask for advice. I will tell them how to interact with them, instead of trying to force them to talk to me because if they weren't comfortable coming to me, they're going to clam up and they're not going to talk to me.
While we were out of school, I didn't have a whole lot of contact with a lot of them other than just email, you know, trying to communicate, we need to be doing this, we need to be doing that. But my kids that know me and have known me for a while, they would text me or they would call me. Evenings, weekends, whatever, my kids will text and call me and I'll pick up the phone. It may be the middle of the night, but if they're calling me, there's a reason and they need me. So I just pick up the phone and answer them.
So probably 25% of them I had communication via text or phone call the entire pandemic. I mean, the whole time we were out of school they've communicated with me if they need something. It could be something as simple as ‘I can't log in, I forgot my username or password.’ ‘Okay, hold on, let me get it pulled up, and I'll tell you how to log in.’ Our school is small enough that the kids, you know, everybody has my phone number. Everybody knows where I live. They show up at my door sometimes. I have a child similar in age to them, and I think that helps with the comfort level, you know, that I'm not just some old crazy lady counselor. They associate me with my child. That's his mom. So I think that helps bridge that gap some.
I laugh all the time and say I have three biological children, but I have 300 children. They're all my kids. And after they graduate, they're still my kids. So there's no telling how many I really have.”
-- Claudia, School Counselor (October 2020).