Ohio District Story: How Columbus City Schools is Supporting Families During the Pandemic

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Many thanks to Scott Varner and the rest of the Columbus City Schools’ Department of Engagement for submitting their district-wide family engagement work below to the Ohio Statewide Family Engagement Center. Their work is a great source of ideas for districts around the state.

Since the start of this health emergency, the Columbus City Schools Department of Engagement – a department that was newly created in August – has been actively linking, aligning, and growing community supports for our students and families who are struggling to meet basic, educational, and social-emotional needs. Below are some of the actions taken by the CCS Engagement Team, including a Family Needs Survey, a Family Resources Repository, Sharing with their Stakeholders, and the work of their Partnership in Action Teams.

Family Needs Survey

bar chart about the needs of families from their survey. The highest need is "Ways to help my child learn at home" followed by "Computer for online learning"
A snapshot of some of the survey results

In mid-March, Columbus City Schools launched an online Family Needs Survey to better understand and track the true needs of families during this crisis. Links to the survey were shared through the District’s communications channels (online, social media) and through the student information system. The survey has collected more than 4,000 responses. A snapshot of a subset of these results is presented here. District staff and community partners were able to put in place several resources to address the specific needs highlighted by the survey. CCS also updated the survey, recognizing that needs at home are changing as this crisis moves into a second month and beyond. The Family Needs Survey has become a valuable tool in aligning and mobilizing their stakeholders.

Family Resources Repository

To link families with the help they need, the CCS Engagement team created an ever-evolving community resource repository of supports for students and families. The “Family Resources” section of the StaySafeCCS.org website includes contact information for more than 110 organizations and local businesses which can help families with everything from getting free groceries and free internet service to free educational activities and games to support students. There’s even information on what a family member can do if they are struggling with depression or need help with paying bills during this crisis. CCS staff know that when a family is in crisis, they don’t want to sift through lists. That is why they have tried to sort all of this information into an easy-to-access format in which visitors click on the image of the help they need.

Sharing with Stakeholders

To make sure that all of their District’s key stakeholder groups and partners were aligned with the most up-to-date information about how their District was responding to the Coronavirus crisis, they’ve held several large conference calls with all of their major stakeholder groups – and they continue to update them with weekly Engagement Update emails. The purpose of these efforts are 3-fold: share information, mobilize community resources, and recruit new partners. In the calls and emails, they ask partners to share District information with their constituents (and translate, as needed) and to share what they are planning to do, so they might align their work – and maybe even engage some others.

Partnership in Action Teams

The Family Needs Survey and stakeholder outreach led to the creation of a “Partnership in Action Team.” In critical times like this, CCS needs their partners to take active roles and have a sense of urgency to identify, mobilize, and align the community resources families are most asking for. The CCS Department of Engagement has enlisted more than 25 local partners to address the needs highlighted in their Family Needs Survey.

Their Partnership in Action Team is actively working to connect families with more free supports and services through 5 committees:

1. The Food Access committee is identifying more ways for families to access free healthy meals. This includes a focus on the 3rd meal – such as dinner or weekend meals – and access to food for those families of students who can’t make it to a grab-and-go location.

2. The Supporting our Immigrant and New American Communities committee is coordinating services for the families of English-Language Learners and providing access to information in their own languages.

3. The Supporting our Students committee has mobilized additional academic supports for students at home. Led by I Know I Can, this team is calling high school seniors to help keep them on the pathway to graduation.

4. The Community Resources committee took the results of the Family Needs Survey and identified new partners and specific solutions to address those needs.

5. The Communications and Information Sharing group is supporting the District’s communications efforts, tapping into community influencers and networks of partners to get important messages out.

Supporting our Immigrants & New Americans 

As part of their larger Partnership in Action Team efforts, the committee which focused on supporting immigrant communities developed the “C-Bus Village” website, an online repository of information geared specifically to non-English speaking students, families and business. This website contains translated health information sheets and videos from the Centers for Disease Control, suggestions on ways to prevent misinformation from spreading, and maps to food pantries and local service providers. There’s additional information for CCS students and families on how to access the new Columbus City School Online Academy and several academic online platforms. The site is www.cbusvillage.org.

Food and Engagement During the Crisis

To provide healthy meals to students during this crisis, the District opened 15 Grab-and-Go Food Sites – school buildings where students and parents can pick up free breakfasts and lunches each day for any children 18 years old and under. On average, between 6,000 – 8,000 meals are handed out each weekday. That means, over the course of a week, they are providing as many as 40,000 healthy meals to young people across the city of Columbus who might otherwise not have access to nutritional foods each day

Extra Meals from Children’s Hunger Alliance: To further help Columbus families access healthy meals for children, Columbus City Schools and Children’s Hunger Alliance are partnering to provide extra take-home meals for students when they visit the food sites. The extra meals are being distributed from the separate Community Table located near the distribution point at CCS’s food sites.

Enlisting Engagement Help: To help distribute the take-home meals and provide additional resources to students and families, several of their community partners have agreed to staff the Community Tables each weekday. They appreciate the work done by After-School All Stars, Columbus Urban League, Columbus Public Health, COTA, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the Buckeye Ranch, Southeast Healthcare KIDS, Alvis House, North Community Counseling Centers, and Communities in Schools.

NBC4 Backpacks, Hygiene Kits, And Mental Health Support: At the Community Tables, CCS is sharing other essential materials students and families might need during this crisis. During the last week of April, they provided more than 1,000 backpacks filled with school supplies, thanks to their partners at NBC4 and their Stuff the Backpack effort. Also handed out were reading materials and activity books, donated by the City of Columbus and Value City Furniture. The Student Success Store initiative is providing 200 Family Hygiene Packs each week at select sites. And their partners at Columbus Public Health shared valuable tips and strategies to support the mental health of young students.

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