Staying Connected: Your Stories
Connections in Education During COVID-19

Throughout New York State, administrators, teachers, and school personnel continue to demonstrate their extraordinary dedication, support, and commitment to their students and New York's children. The State Education Department (NYSED) wishes to highlight the exceptional efforts of our educators to stay connected with students during the coronavirus pandemic.

This edition of Staying Connected highlights:

  • a virtual writing conference for young authors held by Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES
  • a series of innovative practices at schools and afterschool programs across the state

NYSED is grateful to the dedicated educators and school personnel who are working so diligently to ensure that students are safe and well. We encourage you to Submit Your Story detailing how you continue to stay connected.
Virtual Young Authors Conference Features Workshops for All Voices
Screenwriting. Poetry. Podcasts.

The 34th Annual Young Authors Conference had workshops on all of the above—plus a keynote by a New York Times best-selling author—for the aspiring young writers who participated.

Sponsored by Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES, the conference, held virtually this year, featured 15 writing workshops, all centered on the theme: “Writing: Honoring All Voices.”

Organizing the virtual event was no small feat. But organizers were not willing to sacrifice the long held literary tradition to COVID restrictions, which made the usual venue at Westchester Community College unavailable.

The 200 conference participants hailed from 16 high schools and 15 districts across the region. The young writers, who were selected by their schools, attended workshops led by professional poets, novelists, editors and journalists.

“I was interested in this conference because it offered a filmmaking workshop,” said Grace, a participant. Cole, a freshman, agreed. “Some of the workshops looked really interesting,” he said.

Students selected their workshops based on interest and the desire to learn more about specific types of writing.

“My teacher told me it was a really cool opportunity, so I picked what I thought would be the most fun: the poetry workshop, because poems are my favorite thing to write,” said Katelyn. “I also picked the workshop about writing action scenes because they befuddle me. And I have had an overwhelming urge to create a podcast, so I took the workshop that teaches how to create a Podcast in 60 minutes. I learned a lot in a day.”
The workshops were hands-on, with students writing, sharing their work by reading it aloud and critiquing one another. The event also provided a unique opportunity for the area’s most promising young writers to connect with one another and with professional writers.

One student, a sophomore, took the workshops “Can You Spare Ten Minutes? - Writing the Perfect One Act for the Stage,” “The Write Track: Putting Your Life on Stage,” and another about writing action scenes. “I was surprised how much you actually learn in each subject,” he said. “It wasn’t just hearing someone speak, it was much more interactive. We wrote during the workshops and we shared our writing and built on each other’s ideas,” he said.
Rosie Brown
New York Times Best Selling Author Rosie Brown provides the keynote address at the conference. Brown provided invaluable advice to the aspiring writers and told them "You have to take your writing seriously long before anyone else does."
Cole also found the workshops helpful.

“One of the workshops that I took was about non-fiction narratives. You can use this for a lot of things in your writing in school,” he said. “For example, one of the things they talked about was getting inside the head of the person you are writing about, and that can be helpful in all kinds of writing assignments,” he said.

Participants also heard from keynote speaker, Roseanne “Rosie” A. Brown, author of the New York Times bestseller, “A Song of Wraiths and Ruin,” a young adult fantasy infused with West African folklore.

The keynote speaker event was moderated by three students who introduced Ms. Brown to the participants and asked her questions based on submissions from the audience.

“How do you overcome writer’s block?”

“What do you do when an editor wants to heavily edit your book?”

Those were just some of the questions posed to Ms. Brown who generously shared writing tips with the students. Arguably her most important advice to the students was not to be afraid to treat their writing as a priority—as if they were already professional writers. “You have to take your writing seriously long before anyone else does,” she said.

“The conference achieved its mission of honoring and encouraging student writers. Students had the opportunity to celebrate their shared passion for writing,” said Danielle Colangelo, one of the conference’s coordinators. “It is my personal hope that students feel empowered and inspired to share their voices; that they cherish their passion for writing and use their words to make a difference,” she added.

Fred Ende, director of Curriculum and Instructional Services at BOCES, coordinated the conference along with Colangelo, coordinator of Literacy and Teacher Center Services, and Diane Sarna, an English teacher at Fox Lane High School in the Bedford Central School District.
Innovative Practices During the Pandemic 
students and parents
The State Education Department has seen and heard of innovative practices at schools and afterschool programs across the state as they face and overcome challenges associated with teaching, learning, and supporting students and families during a global pandemic. The Department is sharing some of these practices with the field so they can help all schools as they continue to go above and beyond for New York’s students every day.
Engaging Virtual and Hybrid Learning

Schenectady City School District

The 21st Century Community Learning Center in Schenectady, in partnership with the Schenectady City School District, provided several enriching virtual programs during the 2020-21 school year. The virtual science programming included science experiments with students using household items; STEM kits delivered to students' homes; programming around forensic science; and the NASA STEM Challenge working in collaboration with NASA scientists, engineers, and teachers virtually to solve real NASA problems. 

The program’s literacy specialists work with students in a virtual environment to create and publish their own books, and the program has been conducting a virtual Family Book Club throughout the year. It also conducted a virtual Culinary Arts Program with 21st CCLC participants and their families, focusing on international cultures and recipes.
Fostering Student Attendance

Jacob Blackwell Community School of Multimedia, Communications, and Art (PS 111Q), Long Island City

In November and December of 2020, PS 111Q launched a family liaison system to better connect some of its most vulnerable students to schooling and their education. At the time, roughly 66 percent of the school’s students were chronically absent. Attendance patterns were similar for in-person and fully remote students. 

The school identified a subset of chronically absent students and assigned staff to connect with the students’ families and teachers on a weekly basis. The staff made sure students consistently attended class, tracked their work completion, and relayed updates and concerns between families and instructional staff. Twenty-nine students participated in this initiative. 

During the time of the initiative, all but two students experienced a positive change in their year to date average daily attendance. Half of the participating students (51 percent) had a larger positive change in average daily attendance from November to December than the average change for their grade level and learning preference.
Supporting Students & Families

BestSelf Behavioral Health 

At the start of the pandemic, BestSelf Behavioral Health, a community-based organization serving children and adults of all ages in Western New York, immediately reached out to families participating in the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program. The organization created a virtual platform within one month of shutdown; connected with Food Services at Buffalo Public Schools to help distribute resources/activity kits; performed 'check ins' and sent out postcards to aid with Social Emotional Learning and mental health needs; and advocated for families to receive in-person supports when safe. The organization believes in listening to 'youth voice and choice' and meeting children and families where they are.

Hancock Community Education Foundation

The Hancock Community Education Foundation, an organization in Delaware County providing educational support to children from birth to post graduation, has been focused on academic enrichment, socialization, and physical activity throughout the pandemic. The program offers socially distanced physical activities during programming; STEM projects with lesson plans that help with experiential and project-based learning; and socially distanced, safe, interactive activities for participants, including Saturday events with students and parents/guardians. The 21st Century Community Learning Center program also aids students during afterschool hours, has an in-person cooking program, and provides food to the whole program each day.

The Bronx School of Young Leaders/MS 331

The Bronx School of Young Leaders implemented a host of initiatives to provide resources to students and their families during the pandemic, including iPads and Chromebooks for nearly all students, hotspots for students without internet connectivity, gift cards for students and families, a $200/month family food bank, a resource pantry for household items, health care at a community-based school clinic, and daily food distribution for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

In addition, the school created a daily advisory period to provide an opportunity for remote and in-person students to connect with their peers and to provide the families with important information. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) activities occur daily, and every class period of the day begins with a short SEL activity to get students moving. All school-wide traditional events were revamped to be able to hold them in this new setting to create a sense of normalcy. The school’s overall attendance rate is above 90% for the current school year.

Binghamton University Community Schools Regional Network

The Binghamton University Community Schools Regional Network engages families and builds a culture of trust through Family and Community Cafes. Cafes are events hosted by the schools and led by families to engage families and community members in the school environment, and to address needs/barriers impacting academic success. Cafes have become an important tool to address family and community needs throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Two examples in the Broome County region include 1) cafes to support the unique needs of grandparents raising grandchildren at Whitney Point CSD, and 2) cafes serving as a continual needs assessment to assess gaps within the community at Chenango Forks CSD.
Providing Professional Learning

Wheatland-Chili Central School District

Wheatland-Chili CSD collaborated with Melissa Heatly, Director of School Mental Health at University of Rochester Medical Center, to coordinate community building circles at the opening of school in September 2020. According to Mary Vito, Director of Pupil Personnel Services, “beginning the school year with a Community Building Circle was a great opportunity to bring all of our faculty and staff together in small groups to process the closing of buildings last year due to COVID-19. It provided a place for all to share their feelings of anxiety, anger, and fear of the unknown. Many shared personal stories of how they were affected and their feelings beginning the new school year. Circles are powerful tools for community building.” 

District staff also followed up during a later Superintendent’s Conference Day to reconnect the original groups, providing another opportunity for all to discuss their feelings and celebrate a successful reopening.

Building a Remote Learning Community - Erie 1 BOCES

Ms. Tricia Fay has been working with districts and schools on ensuring Social Emotional Learning practices are building blocks of remote, hybrid, and reopening plans. Through remote trainings with administrators and teachers, she has emphasized that community building practices must be intentionally planned into all lessons. From providing teachers with strategies to empower their students to helping teachers focus on self-care, her wide-ranging Social Emotional Learning best practices all feed back to the need to build remote learning communities.

Promising Practices Edcamp – Southern Westchester BOCES and Harrison High School

Edcamp is a powerful learning experience designed just for educators and those in the education field. You set the topics and the design of the conversations. Simply learn what you want to learn. There are no experts and no prepared sessions. Edcamp provides the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues, share experiences, ask questions, discuss ideas, challenge your thinking, debate, communicate, and network.

This video from SWBOCES Edcamp features Emily Hart, a chemistry teacher from Harrison High School.
Supporting English Language Learners

Guided Math for ELLs

Jennifer Chard and Magdalen Beiting-Parrish of Bridges to Academic Success are developing a series of mini-units for Students with Interrupted/Inconsistent Formal Education (SIFE) and Newcomer students to support them in developing the foundational skills they need to access grade-level material. As part of this work, Bridges to Academic Success partnered with Karen Dakin at H. H. Wells Middle School in Brewster, NY. She has worked to help develop the lesson plans and materials and has tried the lessons with her students. Despite the pandemic-related challenges of implementing this curriculum in a hybrid environment, Karen has been successful with helping her students to improve their mathematical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Providing Social Emotional Learning

The Center for Youth Services

The Center for Youth Services in Rochester has offered a youth-based, restorative focused Virtual Help Zone and Social Emotional Learning for students and families this school year. Virtual Help Zones provide student-centered support, including drop-in meetings, Social Emotional Learning services, mediations, and more. The program encourages students to address social and emotional challenges to overcome distance learning stressors and empowers students to achieve academic goals. In addition to the Virtual Help Zones, Center for Youth staff coordinate with school districts for student check-ins each day.

Greater Southern Tier BOCES - TRLE (Teaching in Remote/Hybrid Learning Environments) 

Instructional Support Teacher Rebecca Bowers has developed several strategies to incorporate Social Emotional Learning (SEL) practices into remote and hybrid learning environments. Ms. Bowers brings community building practices into the virtual classroom by leveraging the features of video calling platforms (gallery view, interactive games, emojis, etc.). The activities she has created are easy to execute, even with minimal technology, and she has received positive feedback from teachers and students.

Ms. Bowers has also been integral in creating SEL professional development materials for NYSED’s TRLE (Teaching in Remote/Hybrid Learning Environments) program.

More information on TRLE, including a calendar of free professional learning opportunities open to any New York State educators, can be found on the TRLE website.
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