The Montclair public school district has approximately 6800 students, with 1350 children in the K-2 years. We are a highly diverse district– approximately 44% of our school population identifies as Black or African-American, Hispanic or Multi-racial. Approximately 15% of our children receive free or reduced price school lunch.
In determining the best focus for a possible grant, we met with our district’s Superintendent, technology director, nursing supervisor, and business administrator. We also consulted with community leaders including the head of the Developmental Learning Center (public preschool for students with disabilities), the local NAACP Education Committee interim chairperson and head of the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence (MFEE). In addition, we reviewed parent survey data in June 2020 about their families’ experiences with remote learning.
Our needs analysis showed that our youngest learners K-2 are particularly vulnerable during remote learning. They have difficulty learning independently, they are struggling with social-emotional issues due to isolation and they are very dependent on their parents. At the same time, their parents are struggling with pandemic-related stress, trying to work from home while helping teach their children, and perhaps facing unemployment, financial insecurity, unstable housing or personal losses due to COVID-19. Recent societal events and unrest have only added to the stress felt by many in our community. The combined effect of all of these stressors is having a detrimental effect on the mental health and wellbeing of all of our families.
Our district is currently planning a hybrid school environment for the fall. Depending on the status of the pandemic locally, we also may be thrust back into a wholly remote learning model.
With the funding we hope to receive, Montclair PTA Council will focus our efforts on helping the families of our youngest learners by providing parent learning sessions to help parents and families during another period of remote or hybrid instruction.
Tentatively titled “Family Coping During Remote Instruction,” the interactive series will be led by mental health experts and consultants discussing the following topics:
Session 1: Mental health and wellbeing for adults– recognizing the impact of stress, trauma and uncertainty; self-care; putting your mask on first; making connections with other parents during the pandemic
Session 2: Sacred Space– creating the learning environment at home, talking to your child about remote learning
Session 3: Facilitating instruction– setting up routines, tips and tricks, using visuals, using manipulatives, getting what you need
Session 4: Mental health and well-being (children)– understanding child development, addressing child mental health issues, handling screen fatigue, advocating for your children
Our parent support series is consistent with the mission of the National PTA in several ways:
We are Committed to the educational success of children as well as the engagement of their families;
We are Collaborating with the school district and community groups in planning the program;
We are passionate about Diversity and Equity in our district and about meeting the needs of all families as we serve a school population that is racially, ethnically and socio-economically diverse.
In planning this program, we are consulting with a variety of stakeholders within the school district and in the community at large. The series will be a collaboration between the PTAs, district administrators and staff, mental health professionals and developmental education experts across the community.
Depending on their availability, the panels may feature:
Lloyd Talley, Ph.D.,, a developmental psychologist, educational researcher, consultant and experienced provider of training and professional development in the area of trauma
Gerard Costa, Ph.D., Professor of Early Elementary and Literacy Education at Montclair State University and founder of the Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health
Christy Crawford, a highly experienced K-8 educator and educational consultant with a strong background in leveraging technology.
Jennifer Finnerty, head of Montclair’s Developmental Learning Center
Student Assistance Counselors from the district
In designing the series, we will be collaborating with the aforementioned individuals as well as our Superintendent Dr. Jonathan C. Ponds and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Kalisha Morgan. The program will be planned with input from all of these stakeholders, and community groups such as the NAACP Education Committee, the Montclair Mommies and Daddies group, and the Montclair Fund for Education Excellence (MFEE).
Current and incoming K-2 parents will be invited to submit their questions and concerns to ensure the program directly addresses their needs. The series will be publicized through mailers from the district, postings on Facebook and other social media platforms, and outreach to community groups such as Head Start, local PreK programs, the Developmental Learning Center and the Neighborhood Child Care Center. Montclair PTAC has already been building and deepening our relationship with all of these individuals and groups.
The Montclair PTA Council and the school PTAs are only as valuable to the community as parents get engaged in it. By providing this valuable resource to families, we will further this engagement with families so that parents and caregivers see it as an important part of their children’s school lives, a resource to be consulted, and something to get involved in for years to come. This initiative will also help strengthen the collaborative relationship between the administration and the PTAC, and further enable PTAs to provide important resources in the area of parent education and family engagement.