Op-Ed Special to Florida Trend
Florida's Top Ten Takeaways from COVID Education Innovation
As Florida educators and families reflect on this challenging school year and think about the academic year fast approaching, there are two clear takeaways: Most kids do better with in-person learning, and families rely on schools for so much more than classroom instruction.
But amidst the disruption of this past year, what were key learnings that can be carried forward as potentially better ways of doing things next school year?
Florida's local education foundations work with nearly every Florida school district to innovate learning, power potential, and celebrate success. In our interactions with teachers and school leaders over the past 16 months, we've connected with 177 teachers, program and school leaders to learn about new tactics they've discovered this year that they plan to continue. What we've discovered are examples of innovation and resilience that are worth sharing.
- A 30-year veteran first-grade teacher from Collier County has gotten to know her students' families better through monthly Zoom family nights than she ever did by having them drive across town for conferences.
- Virtual career days hosted in schools across the state have made it easier for working professionals to participate.
- When Pasco, Broward and Duval school district leaders took school choice fairs and college nights online, they saw participation increase along with the quality of engagement, as students who may not have spoken at an in-person event asked great questions in chat rooms.
Most of the innovations we learned about involved technology – not to replace in-person learning but to expand opportunities, eliminate transportation barriers, and engage families and community volunteers in more time-efficient ways. The question became "What could we do differently if we assumed everyone had an adequate device and internet connection?"
In a state where hundreds of thousands of families don't have adequate broadband access, we recognized that this assumption could lead to greater inequities for our most vulnerable learners. At the onset of the pandemic, many of our local education foundations jumped into action to raise millions in funding for resources and provide support to families and teachers as they adapted to distance learning overnight.
Now as federal COVID relief funds are shoring up school technology budgets and many districts are moving to 1:1 devices for students, communities are focusing on persistent challenges around connectivity and digital literacy. For example, the Education Foundation of Palm Beach County is part of a $60 million effort involving 40 government, philanthropic and business partners to build a Wi-Fi Mesh Network in historically underserved communities.
Investments in technology also provide the infrastructure for education innovators to collaborate and work smarter. In Broward County, Broward college and career advisors joined with four other Florida school districts to introduce students to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and provide college application and financial aid help in a series of virtual forums, dividing up the workload among themselves with no one having to worry about the pizza and the parking.
While Florida's K-12 schools and educators were forced to dismantle virtually everything about the way they taught during the pandemic, one silver lining has been finding new, effective ways of getting things done.
Florida's local education foundations have pulled these insights together to develop a report of the Top Ten Takeaways from COVIDEducationInnovation in Florida.
Our hope is that this report will serve as a starting point for local communities to consider implementing new innovations and begin working towards even greater possibilities for reimagining our schools.
Mary Chance is CEO of the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations. The Top Ten Takeaways from COVID Education Innovation report can be accessed at https://educationinnovationspotlight.com/ To contact Mary Chance, email firstname.lastname@example.org.