Stand for Children
& Matchbook Learning
How a community partnership helped close the Homework Gap for Indianapolis students.
“If not now, then when?” asks Stand for Children, an Indiana organization that works tirelessly to make sure that every Hoosier student receives an equitable education. Given their commitment to improving learning and outcomes for students in need, it’s no surprise that they got right to work when the pandemic sent kids home in the spring, calling families and collecting data to get students without home Internet access online.
CONNECTING STUDENTS AT HOME STARTS WITH COMMUNICATION
Prior to the pandemic, Stand for Children helped Matchbook Learning Indianapolis engage with student families to make sure that the kids were improving their reading skills in advance of IREAD-3, Indiana’s state reading assessment for third graders. This included everything from weekly workshops to incentivizing students to read and getting parents involved.
When the pandemic hit, Stand for Children quickly rerouted their efforts to make sure that Matchbook kids had everything they needed for remote learning. That effort started with understanding which students needed support with home Internet access, devices, as well as food, shelter, healthcare, and other resources.
Although home Internet connectivity wasn’t part of their datasets prior to the pandemic, the school was already very data-driven. Matchbook CEO and Principal Dr. Amy Swann says,
“Data drives learning plans, purchasing, and distribution. The surveying and systems we put into place back in the spring have helped us to troubleshoot, estimate, and prepare for this new school year.”
To support their students for distance learning, Stand for Children and Matchbook immediately got to work, making 600 calls in just 48 hours. “We felt the urgency,” says Ashley Thomas, Regional Organizing Director at Stand for Children.
Families who don’t have adequate devices or Internet access can’t fill out a form online, so these phone calls were crucial to getting the information they needed (important to note: parents can opt-in or out at any time for community partners to contact them). Stand for Children staff and volunteers called every family to check on students and updated needs in a tracker. For the nearly 40% of Matchbook families who are ESL, they used a script in multiple languages and relied on bilingual volunteers. “They are the queens of phone banking,” says Dr. Swann.
That’s only the tip of the iceberg – for the families they couldn’t reach via phone, they reached out through email, Class Dojo, and their School Messenger systems. In order for families to stay up-to-date while learning from home, they mailed newsletters home, increasing the frequency from monthly to weekly, and blasted messages on social media. And for the handful of families that weren’t responding to these outreach efforts, they did home visits.
Once they understood the connectivity and device needs, they started problem-solving on how to support their students and families with the issues they were facing. This included getting quotes from vendors and reaching out to funders and community partners to see what community-wide actions and coalitions could be formed to help.
With the data and community support they needed, Matchbook was able to distribute 515 devices and 65 hotspots to homes, in addition to helping other families navigate how to get residential broadband from service providers. Stand for Children says Matchbook went “all-out” to make sure they got the devices in the hands of students, even hand-delivering them to families who couldn’t pick them up.
Their efforts worked: Matchbook connected 100% of their students with the devices and Internet access they needed to participate in remote learning.
CONNECTIVITY AND DIGITAL EQUITY FOR ALL STUDENTS IN INDIANAPOLIS
Dr. Swann says they are looking forward to 2021-22 when Indy will become one of the first cities to have city and county-wide dedicated Internet for every Marion County student.
Until then, Matchbook plans to continue to support families with devices and home Internet connectivity by reaching out to every family to ensure that they know how to connect to the Internet – the school will be covering those costs for the time being. And during the pandemic while the need is especially acute, Matchbook does weekly check-ins with high-risk families – the community they serve is 98% high poverty – and periodic check-ins with other families based on student participation in programs and other things that flag potential needs.
They will also continue to do an annual survey on device access and will plan periodic campaigns to remind families to let them know if they have a need. At Matchbook, they believe family success is part of student success – home Internet and devices aren’t just for student learning, but for families to learn and have access to tools that increase their stability as well. For example, 38% of their students are English as a Second Language learners so Matchbook offers the parents and siblings access to an online program to learn English as well.
Stand for Children says Dr. Swann “not only has a Plan A, B, C – she has a plan for everything.” Moving forward, they’re working on setting up a help desk line (in multiple languages) to help families with at-home tech issues since remote learning is continuing through the fall – everything from how to log in to how to use the hotspots.
The good news is: it’s working. While all around the country educators, families, and leaders are concerned about the COVID slide, Matchbook has found that 85% of their students who participated regularly in remote learning actually grew during the pandemic shutdown, despite the learning barriers and less than ideal learning environments.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR HOW TO WORK WITH COMMUNITY PARTNERS
- It takes a village. If you want to improve your school, you have to be a community school – that means including parents and community partners. Dr. Swann says if a nonprofit is capable and willing to help, welcome them into the fold.
- Try, try, try again. Reach out to families multiple times in multiple formats. You have to figure out what works for each family. Especially during difficult times, you cannot over-communicate.
- Celebrate! Every year, Matchbook has celebrations of learning, which helps them enroll more parents and community partners in their shared vision of student success.