COVID-19 is still here. So are we.

Melissa Salgado, Director of Advocacy & Community Engagement

COVID-19 has upended so many aspects of our everyday lives. Everything from going to school to going to the grocery store is a markedly different experience now than it was just six months ago. But nothing is more concerning than the impact it has had on the livelihoods of so many in our community. With bread winners of many households now unemployed, and countless small businesses having closed their doors for good, families across our region are struggling every day.

That is why at KIPP Public Schools Northern California, we have made it a top priority to support our families as we all navigate the challenges of our current reality. Our teachers and leaders have gone above and beyond to capture the joy and rigor of our classrooms virtually through distance learning, while our school-based staff has worked with families to provide every student a Chromebook and connect families in need with wifi hotspots. And every student receives one-on-one calls each week from their teachers to offer academic help, emotional support, and a listening ear. 

A great school is there for families and students through the hardest times.

As the Director of Advocacy and Community Engagement, I’ve seen firsthand the way this important shift has impacted our work. As the financial and economic impact of the pandemic became clear, my team quickly honed in on family support and providing resources and information to struggling families. One of our first steps was to establish the KIPP Support Line for families. We began by reaching out to over 60 community service organizations across the Bay Area to confirm they were able to provide services to families in need during the Bay Area-wide shelter-in-place order. Then we opened up the line to all of our families so they could easily access information about local resources and organizations that could provide assistance. 

We received more than 200 calls from concerned families within the first weeks. Over time, we connected with over 1,000 families. Many were grappling with a job or income loss. We spoke with essential workers struggling to find childcare during working hours, some were seeking information about new housing policies, or about local food banks. A lot of people simply needed someone to listen.

As we spoke to families, we realized referrals to community organizations were simply not enough. 

Food distribution pick-up site in East Palo Alto

The most urgent need and immediate challenge being expressed to us by many families was money. We realized we had to somehow address this need and soon established the KIPP Support Fund to provide direct cash payments to struggling families. Ultimately, our community raised over $400,000 for the support fund, which benefited nearly 1,000 students, families, and alumni. It provided funds for everything from helping stranded KIPP alumni purchase flights home after their college campuses closed to providing immediate funds to KIPP families for rent, food, and medical bills. 

We hear it a lot, and it is true, that this pandemic is unprecedented. What that means to me is that our response has to be unprecedented, too. Not just as a nation, but as a school system. We have to ask the tough questions: How do we fulfill our promises to families even when their students aren’t on campus? How can we still help kids feel safe and happy? How can we still help kids learn? These are the questions that will ensure we are living our own values, even in the hardest circumstances. 

I have worked in education for a decade, but this experience is expanding my definition of what it means to engage and support families. A great school is there for families and students through the hardest times. A great school is a community hub, even when that hub is accessed through the phone, a computer, or through socially-distanced food distribution. A great school is great because families and students know that their school is truly theirs. I am proud and honored to be part of the team focused on maintaining strong communities, and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to ensure all families, students and alumni have access to the resources they need to not only survive, but thrive. 

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