Student anxiety and mental health issues were a serious concern before COVID-19 and are even more so now that schools are not physically in session. Distance learning is no substitute for in-person interaction and emotional support, and many educators are struggling to support students and colleagues during this difficult time.
Earlier this month, more than 800 educators attended a webinar hosted by Marc Brackett, Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and Betty Sternberg, Director of Connecticut’s Teacher Leader Fellowship Program, a collaborative program run by CCSU, CEA, and AFT-CT. The webinar, titled, “SEL Best Practices for Supporting Educators and Students During Distance Learning,” featured 23 teachers and administrators from around Connecticut.
Three CEA teachers were featured on the panel. Anthea Groton, a kindergarten teacher at Birch Grove Elementary School in Tolland, shared strategies to help elementary school students deal with anxiety and feelings of isolation and loneliness. She focused on the importance of warm connections between teachers and students and engaging learning activities like Lego Challenges and Living Room Fort Construction. She spoke of the challenges of distance learning and the emotional toll it is taking on teachers, and reminded colleagues, “What you are doing matters. It matters a lot.” Read more
Hundreds of Stamford students, teachers, parents, and other community members showed their opposition to plans to cut the school budget by more than $15 million during a car caravan rally yesterday afternoon and at a virtual Board of Finance meeting last night.
“The community’s show of support is amazing,” said Stamford Education Association President Diane Phanos. “Thousands of residents have been actively involved in speaking out at four virtual town budget meetings, and hundreds attended today’s car caravan, urging city officials not to cut the education budget.”
Increased class sizes and the reduction or elimination of positions—including reading teachers, media specialists, technology teachers, social workers, school counselors, EL specialists, and art, physical education, and music teachers, as well as security personnel and paraprofessionals—are just some of the changes in store if Stamford Pubic Schools Superintendent Tamu Lucero’s budget-cutting plan is adopted. That plan has been proposed unless teachers accept $15 million in concessions, including a two-year salary freeze and $4 million in unspecified additional cuts or a 10% increase in the teacher health care premium cost share.
“As we try to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, our students will need more resources. These proposed cuts will jeopardize their education, their emotional well-being, and their future. We urge our elected leaders to listen to the public and do what’s right for Stamford,” said Phanos. Read more
A virtual panel hosted by Special Education Equity for Kids (SEEK) of Connecticut discussed the need for safeguards and protocols to be in place before in-person schooling resumes.
Connecticut’s elected officials, health experts, education stakeholders, and others agree that when school resumes this fall, it is unlikely to look like school pre-COVID. Safeguards will need to be in place to protect students and staff against exposure to a virus that has no available vaccine and is still not well-understood. Protocol will need to be developed to assess and remediate against learning loss, trauma, and other by-products of the global pandemic.
But what will those safeguards and protocols be, and will they be consistent from district to district? Those were a few of the questions raised during a virtual panel discussion hosted by the nonprofit Special Education Equity for Kids (SEEK) of Connecticut.
As the state works on guidance and plans for reopening schools, SEEK is looking to teachers, administrators, parents, and others for potential strategies and concerns, particularly when it comes to students with special needs. Panel discussants, who answered questions submitted via Zoom, included CEA President Jeff Leake, Old Saybrook Superintendent of Schools Jan Perruccio, Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) Deputy Director and General Counsel Patrice McCarthy, Connecticut Counselor of Administrators of Special Education (ConnCASE) Executive Director Dave Scata, and Norwalk parent advocate Geraldine Fleming. SEEK board members Andrew Feinstein and Jennifer Laviano moderated. Read more
Increased class sizes, the reduction or elimination of positions, including reading teachers, media specialists, technology teachers, social workers, school counselors, EL specialists, and art, physical education, and music teachers as well as security personnel and paraprofessionals are just some of the cuts Stamford Pubic Schools Superintendent Tamu Lucero outlined last night during a virtual Board of Finance (BOF) special budget meeting. Lucero threatened the cuts if teachers refuse to accept $15 million in concessions, including a two-year salary freeze and $4 million in unspecified additional cuts or a 10% increase in the teacher health care premium cost share.
“Penalizing teachers by requiring concessions and eliminating essential positions—including social workers—when we need them more than ever is penny-wise and pound foolish,” said Stamford Education Association President Diane Phanos. “Making drastic cuts is not the right course for our residents or our community during these unprecedented times. When we return to school, our students will need more resources, not fewer, and we have to be prepared to provide remediation and handle students’ emotional trauma caused by the pandemic.”
The SEA successfully organized members to participate in last night’s BOF virtual meeting, with hundreds of teachers among the 800 participants. Despite the record numbers, however, the board allowed only eight participants to speak, cutting off public comment after just 40 minutes. All eight speakers were Stamford teachers who spoke out against the budget cuts, while dozens of others submitted written comments echoing concerns that the cuts would be devastating to students now and in the future, compounded by the trauma and chaos caused by the coronavirus. Read more
Organizing can be more difficult when members can’t meet face-to-face with each other, or with town officials, but that’s not stopping teachers around the state. Farmington Education Association (FEA) members are a recent example of what’s possible when teachers commit to working together.
Thanks to teachers in Farmington and the community of parents and residents who support them, the Town Council gave up pursuing concessions for next year, and the town also agreed to greater transparency in its public meetings going forward.
“We want to thank our FEA Council and all of you for tirelessly working together to make this happen,” FEA President James McNamara wrote in an email to members.
FEA just negotiated a new contract last fall but the town came asking for concessions in order to guarantee a zero percent tax increase for the coming fiscal year. Read more
The coronavirus may have closed school buildings, but it has also revealed the determination and resolve of educators to help their students.
This pandemic has also exposed a great divide. Some students have been disproportionately affected, and, unless we act, they will face steeper obstacles in the future because of it.
That’s why NEA is launching a national advertising campaign aimed at advocating on behalf of students, their families, and the nation’s public school teachers.
We cannot let this pandemic deprive our schools and communities of the support they need to serve students now and when this crisis is over. The nation’s recovery from COVID-19 will run through our public schools, so we need to make sure we prioritize students and educators in coronavirus relief legislation.
Watch the ad below, and then visit www.nea.org/covidaction for resources for educators, parents, and communities to address the crisis and its impact on education.
As well as being CEA's highest policy-making body, the CEA Representative Assembly (RA) is also usually a chance for teachers from across the state to meet up and converse with their fellow CEA members.
At a virtual education roundtable meeting of Governor Ned Lamont’s Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group, public health officials and education stakeholders discussed issues surrounding school reopening plans.
On a regular Saturday, the parking lot at Victoria Soto Elementary School in Stratford’s south end sees some 150 families come through for a monthly food pickup from the Connecticut Food Bank. Lately, however, those numbers have nearly doubled. And the same teachers who have spent the first Saturday of every month this school year volunteering to distribute food have stepped it up to accommodate the growing number of families struggling to make ends meet.
Teachers and their fellow volunteers pose on a recent Saturday morning before preparing to distribute food to the growing number of families struggling to make ends meet.
Back in September, Victoria Soto kindergarten teacher Judee McMellan spearheaded the food donation effort with the Connecticut Food Bank. Her school, which serves grades K-1, shares a campus and driveway with Stratford Academy Johnson House, for grades 2-6. Colleagues from both buildings as well as Franklin Elementary and other Stratford schools joined in the project, forming a corps of nearly 30 volunteers whose ranks also included custodial staff, administrators, family members of teachers, a board of education member, a town official, and local high school students.
“My school is in a low-income neighborhood,” says McMellan, who has spent the last 37 years of her 40-year career in Stratford. “There is tremendous need in our community as well as a huge outpouring of support.” Read more
When Brookfield High School science teacher Heather Biancheri learned of the impact COVID-19 was having on members of her community, she did what many fellow educators around the state began doing: helping those most vulnerable with food delivery and more.
“I began volunteering to deliver food each week to senior citizens to keep at-risk people safe at home,” she says. She also used social media to help educate others about the pandemic.
Brookfield High School teachers Stephanie Vivas and Heather Biancheri collect PPE for their charity, PPE Donations for CT. (They note that they ensure social distancing and that the photo was taken before masks were mandated in Connecticut.)
Soon, however, the 17-year veteran teacher stumbled upon a unique and critical source of support she could also provide. With schools closed and science labs standing empty, Biancheri realized she had a surplus of much-needed gloves, gowns, and other personal protective equipment that were in short supply at hospitals and other healthcare facilities. She knew other science teachers were also sitting on PPE gold mines in their schools.
“I considered the amount of PPE that would be easily collectable from our school labs,” she says. “Realizing that no one had begun to undertake this process, this is where I began my journey to support our community.” Read more