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Planning for a Successful School Year

Planning for a Successful School Year

It’s back to school time again, but it’s also anything but business as usual.

With the uncertainty that comes along with the pandemic and the rise of e-learning in many schools, our Education and Career Resources department has been hard at work for months making sure our kids have all the tools they need to be successful while navigating a new learning landscape.

This has caused a total shift in the way our coworkers have been thinking about the upcoming school year.

“Instead of running around for uniforms and back-to-school nights, it’s getting a better handle on [the kids’] schedules, thinking about what their structure and what their day will look like while at Mercy,” Elizabeth Sorice, the director of the Walsh Campus ECR department, said.

And that’s ultimately what the biggest challenge will be, scheduling out the day and making sure every young person has a space where they can learn, focus, and be successful in school, even outside of a traditional classroom environment. In the past, the ECR team’s focus was thinking about structure before and after the school day; now, they also have to account for the hours our kids spend in school. To help give our kids an extra boost, they are supplementing the school curriculum with additional materials that take their specific needs into account.

“[We will be] really trying to make sure that there’s progress and growth happening for the youth,” Elizabeth said.

Brittany Terrell, the director of education resources, noted that they are specifically focusing on ways to make sure that each our kids’ individual learning needs are accounted for and met. She is very aware that in addition to the challenges e-learning brings for our kids, there are also unique learning challenges that some of our kids already faced.

“[We’re taking into consideration] youth educational needs that [require] consistent one-on-one supports [and] support for youth with learning deficits,” she said. “That’s on my radar just because this will be so new for our youth. And if they do have learning deficits, this is just another … barrier. So [we need to consider] how we can constantly advocate for these supports [our kids need].”

Of course, there is also planning that needs to take place on a more practical level. That includes making sure our kids have all their information and supplies organized, as well as a place to do their learning. At the West Loop campus, they are setting up learning spaces that allow for social distancing with privacy dividers and individual sets of supplies so the kids are equipped with everything they need. The learning areas will be monitored by both ECR coworkers and youth care staff.

“[We’re] really just trying to make it as comfortable [for the kids] as possible, given the circumstance,” Brittany said.

We’re really just trying to make it as comfortable [for the kids] as possible, given the circumstance.

The constantly-changing information and plans out of schools has thrown the ECR team some curveballs as they prepped for the school year.

“I think the hardest part of that challenge is trying to plan,” Liz Tomka, the vice president of the Education and Career Resources department, said.

“This is something that impacts all the other teams of the Agency. … [Everyone] has been very flexible and understanding … but I think that’s been the hardest part, wanting to be able to provide some clarity or answers for other people and not being able to find that information as quickly as we [want].”

Though many of the challenges lie with our kids in middle and high school, e-learning has provided unique challenges for our young people attending college, particularly our first-time college students. In addition to helping them navigate learning remotely, the also face the adjustments that naturally come with transitioning to college.

“[We’re] just trying to be mindful of those transitions being obviously different than they would have potentially anticipated and not really what they wanted,” Katelyn Dollard, director of post-secondary options, said. “They were looking forward to some college life, even if they were still living at Mercy Home, [and] connecting in a different way with peers on a college campus. So I’m trying to find other ways to still keep them engaged and excited about being a college student.”

Katelyn added that she hopes that by being creative in the way they plan breaks, safe outings, and other offerings that help pull them out of their study space, she will be able to keep our kids engaged and excited about school.

In addition to the school day looking different, the tutoring our kids will receive is also going to be a bit different. In addition to being virtual instead of in-person, e-learning will also allow tutoring times to become more flexible. Before, all tutoring took place after dinner time between 5-6 p.m. Now, because the majority of our kids are going to be learning at Mercy Home and will not be transporting to and from school, tutoring can begin in the afternoon.

And though most of our kids will be e-learning five days a week, there are three of our kids who will either be going to school each day or combining being in the classroom with some e-learning. Making this process safe for both those kids and the others who aren’t leaving Mercy Home to learn has been an additional challenge.

“If [the child] was under 18, their parent needed to be informed and be part of that decision,” Liz explained. “[It was] also asking for the details from the schools [about] their safety procedures. We also agreed that we would transport all the youth so they didn’t have to navigate or be exposed [to COVID-19] on public transportation.”

In addition, all our children take part in a twice-daily symptom check to ensure the safety of both the kids and coworkers. Constant communication about everyone’s wellbeing is key to making sure everyone stays healthy.

Though this school year has provided a number of challenges, having the kids at our Home for learning may also provide unique opportunities for Mercy Home coworkers to help them.

“The school day used to be a time where we weren’t with [the kids] in every moment,” Katelyn said.

“And I think it will be interesting this year, at least for now, that we will be there [to] observe their regulation throughout the day. … I think it’ll be really interesting to get some more observation time in a more unique way that we wouldn’t have had before, and maybe there’ll be little nuggets that we [can find out] to help them with or give them as tools for when they do eventually go back to school.”

Chicago Catholic, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago, published a story this week about how Mercy Home is preparing for the new school year and for the changes to learning necessitated by the pandemic.

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