For the last eighteen months, New Jersey parents have watched and waited for the State Department of Education to clarify confusion and concern about their children’s public education. While most schools remain open in this nineteenth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, many have no idea whether their kids are on track academically or what exactly districts are doing to address their many needs.
JerseyCAN to the rescue!
Today the nonprofit advocating for high-quality schools for all New Jersey students launched a toolkit called “Can’t Wait” to provide families with needed information and guidance to work with teachers and schools to get their children back on track academically while maintaining the highest expectations. The campaign, which will run statewide through the fall, includes extensive media coverage, a one-stop-shopping microsite, and digital engagement to homes across the state.
“This campaign is about supporting New Jersey parents,” explained Janellen Duffy, Senior Advisor of JerseyCAN. “While we celebrate the fact that schools are open, there is still a great deal of work to be done. Parents want a clear understanding of how their school district plans to address the disruptions to learning that have occurred over the past 18 months. And more specifically, parents want to make sure that their children get back on track academically. We designed this campaign to provide answers to parents’ questions, develop a statewide platform to share parent voices, and to make sure all New Jersey families and educators uphold the highest expectations for our students.”
Duffy told NJ Ed Report, “this is the kind of work we’ve always done–using best practices to drive policy. The pandemic has injected a new urgency into our work so we’ve been producing as much material as possible to help parents and districts.”
This urgent work began in the fall of 2020 when JerseyCAN conducted the first poll of New Jersey parents showcasing the stark racial and income disparities in addressing the challenges of COVID-19. This poll found parents had concerns not only about their children’s health and safety but also about students staying on track academically. The work continued that winter when JerseyCAN released the first of its kind study defining the impact of COVID-19 on New Jersey students. This research projected that approximately 393,000 students in ELA and 430,000 students in Math in grades 3-8 would not be on grade level by the end of this school year.
And earlier this summer, as school districts began creating plans to utilize the billions of federal dollars coming into New Jersey through COVID relief funding, JerseyCAN launched a centralized multimedia platform to assist local districts and charter schools in advancing new strategies and programs to accelerate learning. This platform features case studies of New Jersey districts and schools who are actively using evidence-based strategies to accelerate student learning.
This new digital toolkit includes a “Take Action” page where parents can ask questions about health, safety, academic, and mental health concerns. JerseyCAN will answer the questions by connecting parents with vetted resources. Another link takes parents to the non-profit’s “Framework for Accelerated Student Learning,” which showcases best practices on overcoming learning loss and highlights districts that are doing so successfully. There’s a “Dear Teacher” template to help parents communicate with educators, a “Family Guide” that tells parents what their children should learn in each grade, a link to Bedtime Math, which offers 10-second “check-ups” to gauge student proficiency, and a “Readiness Check” to clarify what students need.
This initiative includes two short digital spots appropriately titled “NJ Kids Can’t Wait.” Here’s one:
Perhaps most importantly there is a list of key questions parents can raise with teachers and schools to really understand how their children are doing and what their children need. Newarker Tafshier Cosby, CEO of Parent Impact and Director of Organizing for the National Parents Union, explained the purpose of JerseyCAN’s campaign:
For the last 18 months and most specifically the opening of the new school year, many parents are grasping for information. Parents want to know what they should do if their child is struggling with homework. They want to know how their school district is spending stimulus dollars. And overall they want to know what the plan is for addressing their child’s academic and other needs.
Here are those key questions:
- When is my child’s school going to measure my child’s academic needs this year?
- What are the expectations around homework this year?
- If my child is struggling with homework, how can I work with his/her teacher on a plan?If my child is flying through homework, can his/her teacher provide enrichment work?
- When will I be updated on my child’s reading level this year?
- Are there guided readers available in the classroom?
- Can my child’s teacher make recommendations re: the best books for her level?
- What diagnostic information has my school gathered so far on reading level/math competency?
- When will Start Strong or any additional diagnostic tools be administered? And when will I get the results?
- What are some stretch goals for my child?
- Who can I speak to if my child is struggling with academics?
- Who can I speak to if my child is struggling with mental health?
- What are the learning platforms that are available at home for practicing these skills and goals outlined above?
- What is my child’s school doing in regards to COVID-19 protocols and safety?
- What tools/curriculum are being used this year to measure and address my child’s social and emotional needs and abilities?