In mid-March, when virtually every school in America was forced to transition to an online learning platform due to the Covid-19 pandemic, each institution had to face its own set of challenges.
For New Beginnings Family Academy, first and foremost was to bridge the digital divide that many of our students face.
We knew NBFA would not be able to provide an online education for our kids if they did not have the necessary tools at home to access and participate in distance learning.
Hence, NBFA’s Chromebook Campaign was initiated. Our goal was to provide every student a laptop that needed one; and to do so in a timely, organized, socially-distanced way – all at no cost to our parents.
NBFA’s leadership and development teams collaborated on this successful campaign, quickly raising the necessary funds in a timely manner.
“We are incredibly grateful for the generosity from new s, long-time donors and grants from local foundations such as the John Patrick Flanagan Foundation and the Fairfield County Community Foundation that helped provide funding for Chromebooks and close the digital divide for our students during this COVID-19 pandemic,” Katie Beirne, Chief Development and Communications Officer said. “This technology provided the online access our students needed and will allow for continued distance learning opportunities over the summer and in the year ahead.”
While the endeavor went off as seamlessly as NBFA could have hoped, it was no small task, requiring a cohesive, dedicated approach from the entire leadership team and NBFA community.
“Although this whole process was daunting, it was well worth the effort as it afforded all our students the ability to stay connected and engaged in continued learning opportunities,” said Collette Fearon, NBFA’s Elementary School Principal. “Access to a digital device, online meetings and learning platforms allowed our students and teachers to reconnect and interact in a personal manner, which brought comfort and reassurance to all of us."
However, it's not just about continuing education. NBFA’s leaders realized early on that replacing the face-to-face everyday interaction that students were missing with their teachers was equally as important as the cognitive aspect of distance learning.
“Sitting in on Zoom meetings with teachers and students reminded me of the importance of human connections, especially during times of mass crisis,” Fearon said. “The digital devices stave off some of the depression and sense of loss that our students could experience as a result of not being able to connect with the teachers and staff. Our students have a healthy rapport with staff and teachers and looked forward to seeing and interacting with them in a normal school day.” Our Morning Message and Reading Corner videos on NBFA’s social media pages also helped us to keep connected with students and families during the quarantine."
Once funding had been secured and the Chromebooks procured, NBFA leaders had the task of developing a safe, efficient system of providing families with their laptops. What ensued was a drive-thru system for parents and guardians on three separate dates. Families arrived at the school in their cars with their confirmation number in their window. NBFA staff matched that number to the laptop, while wearing gloves and masks, and placed them in the trunk of families’ cars, ensuring a no-contact transaction.
“After a tremendous effort from staff and families, we successfully gave a computer to every student who needed one in way that was safe for all,” said Assistant Principal Katherine Habansky, who was instrumental in the distribution process. “As we passed computers to each family, there were lots of big smiles underneath our masks from all, as we were happy to see families again.”
Back in the Fall, no one could have predicted the undertaking that educators would have to face in the second half of the year. The staff at NBFA were able to take solace in the fact that their efforts and the generosity of donors provided our students with the opportunity to stay connected to their teachers and schoolwork. This helped to keep some sense of normalcy and as little loss to their instruction as manageable.
“Continued learning could not happen without technology, so we bridged the digital divide and secured Chromebooks for everyone who needed one,” Swagerty said. “Now, with 100% of our students equipped with a device, we have been able to facilitate learning virtually. Although we would much rather be in the school building teaching our students, it is comforting to know that we can engage them in instruction remotely.”