80 ~ 2020
Celebrating 40 Years 1980~2020
COVID-19 Response Supplement
ANNUAL BOARD UPDATE
ANNUAL REPORT | 2019-2020
Executive Summary This COVID-19 Response Supplement report provides a brief overview of the many ways that EASTCONN staff responded to the needs of students, families, professional staff and communities during the COVID-19 crisis, between mid-March and the end of June 2020. In the face of school and program closures and the temporary elimination of face-to-face learning, EASTCONN swiftly adapted to the demands of online learning and remote service-delivery, where the use of digital communication and platforms posed new, unpredictable challenges.
80 ~ 2020
Celebrating 40 Years 1980~2020
Our Adult Programs, Early Childhood, K-12 Student Services, Leading and Learning, and Special Education groups employed new approaches, virtual platforms, program-delivery strategies and content to ensure that those whom EASTCONN serves – from infants, preschoolers and K-12 students to families, adult learners, job-seekers and educators, as well as internal agency staff – received the educational, employment-based, or social-emotional supports and/or guidance they needed. On the operations side of the COVID-19 equation, EASTCONN’s Technology Solutions and Marketing/Web staff responded with a range of new technological, communication, website and social media supports, while Human Resources and Business Office staff provided critical financial management and employee assistance during a time of great uncertainty. In spite of site and school closures, staff mobilized across our Transportation, Facilities and Security divisions to continue site preparation and planning for the resumption of fall classes, while Food Services staff heroically provided hundreds of EASTCONN-region children and families with tens of thousands of free emergency meals. Through it all, EASTCONN’s Executive Director’s office worked with agency staff, statewide partners, the CSDE, the governor’s office and the agency’s Executive Board to ensure that EASTCONN continued to thrive in the face of COVID-19.
ANNUAL REPORT | 2019-2020
Depicted: Screen shots were taken from virtual sessions across a number of reliable, secure platforms that EASTCONN staff and their education partners and students used in order to communicate, teach, learn and work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
ANNUAL REPORT | 2019-2020
Adult & Community Programs Teachers, employment and training coordinators, and support staff responded quickly to help EASTCONN-region adult students and job-seekers stay on track, using new protocols and strategies, including teacher-led online learning, technical support, employment assistance and other distance-learning tactics. High School Completion: Between late March and June 30th, using dynamic Google classrooms, 16 EASTCONN teachers taught 217 adults during 16 ongoing classes, reflecting an increase of 25% from active pre-pandemic registrations. A total of 81 adults attended online Englishas-a-Second-Language classes, reflecting a 5% increase over pre-COVID-19 registrations; 1 citizenship class continued online. Prior to March, we anticipated that 88 adults would graduate with their high school equivalency diploma in June; but due to the statewide closure of GED testing centers and an extended statewide halt to NEDP assessment availability, there was a 45% decrease in graduation attainment, with only 49 students able to graduate through one of the 3 diploma options. Many students took advantage of the Chromebook loan program to continue their studies, and others worked with the teachers and counselors online to access printed materials to continue their academic progress. Despite a dip in late March and early April, requests for new enrollments continued to increase as adults turned to educational programming to strengthen their new job searches. American Job Centers: As of June 30th, the EWIB-funded American Job Centers in Willimantic and Danielson had provided 3,264 individual services to job-seekers in 42 towns, representing a 15% increase in customers over last year. Using phone, email and Facebook portals, AJC staff managed a high volume of unemployment claim questions and assisted those already enrolled in our programs, as well as new job-seekers. AJC staff also connected customers with local human services agencies for basic needs, and supported customers who lacked technology skills or access to technology. Fifteen (15) of our employment and training staff joined the SkillUp CT initiative, providing coaching to laid-off workers who needed access to free, online coursework in order to learn new skills through Metrix Online. In-School and Out-of-School Youth staff provided online supports to youth, ages 14-24, 90 of whom were on track to attain their diplomas; Summer
Youth Employment staff processed 650 applications, created an online employment and training program, and continued coordinating summer employment options with 120 community partners. The Walmart-funded Customer Service Academy’s first remote class to upskill unemployed or underemployed adults, filled quickly with 9 participants who sought to improve their work skills and employability; a second class was similarly successful. Job developers worked on helping clients gain employment, two of whom were successfully placed before June 30th.
Early Childhood Initiatives ECI staff initiated direct, ongoing, virtual services to children and families in the EASTCONN region in response to their needs, both personal and educational. Teaching staff communicated daily with families, holding virtual home visits to keep children’s education and development moving forward. Staff distributed 19 infant kits, 45 toddler kids and 101 preschool Kaplan Early Learning kits, full of age-appropriate supplies like games, art materials and other educational resources; families have requested more. Staff filmed and sent videos of themselves singing songs, reading books, doing experiments and simply talking. Teachers continued to be available to parents/ families at any time, if they had questions or just needed to talk. Family Advocates continued to work with teachers and center-based families to assess their need for, and provide access to, basics like clothing, food, diapers and medical care. Birth to Three (B23): B23 staff provided 2,650+ remote early-intervention services to 206 children and families, which represented 81% of B23’s pre-COVID enrollment; staff completed 50 remote evaluations and 6 assessments to determine a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. There were 15 evaluations pending by June 30, and B23 remained open for referrals through Infoline throughout the March-June period. Head Start (HS) & Early Head Start (EHS): Center-based programs remained consistent with 70% family participation rate through the end of June, with reports of family communication and the need for more child-centered activities; home-based staff reported nearly 100% of families remained enrolled, with 87% participating. Stafford HS reported that it continued to have 75% of families participating and Windham’s center-based HS reported
ANNUAL REPORT | 2019-2020 49% participation. Windham EHS reported 50 of 60 slots were enrolled. Center-based HS/EHS programs and homebased programs incorporated weekly storytelling events presented by the CT Storytellers group; children participated in songs and stories, with puppets. Professional Development: ECI professional staff continued their ambitious work with the RESC Alliance, the state Office of Early Childhood and other partners to deliver free, online PD to educators across the region and the state. Our specialists created “Distance Learning: Supporting Young Children and Families Through Distance Learning” to help state-funded programs that choose to deliver a hybrid model. ECI provided technical assistance on the design of virtual PD and considerations for redesign, using adult learning principles. The team also developed and participated in morale-boosting activities, online PD and interactive peer communications.
K-12 Student Services Magnet & Alternative High Schools Once schools closed, staff at our 2 magnet high schools, ACT and QMC, and at our alternative high school, LEAP, created and rolled out a Continuous Learning Plan from Home for our 332 students, infused with 2 key components: staying connected and learning. Once virtual learning began on March 13, staff at ACT, QMC and LEAP:
• Created processes and protocols for maintaining student privacy, distance learning etiquette, ongoing communication and technology distribution. • Rethought grading practices and created protocols for feedback. • Identified students who needed computers and WiFi, and worked with agency Technology staff to set up and deliver 150+ computers and Wi-Fi hot spots, ensuring student connectivity. • Provided regular communication updates to students, parents, teachers and administrators. • Transitioned instruction, performances and yearly events, such as senior Capstones, field trips and other learning experiences, to virtual platforms.
• Created a 12-week virtual advisory model, addressing SEL needs and creating personalized learning profiles. • Had staff share their talents by sewing 200+ face masks, providing community service and creating inspirational videos, shared school-wide. • In collaboration with students, staff and families, planned and successfully presented 3 outdoor, in-person graduation ceremonies for seniors, allowing them to see peers at a distance, hear valedictory and guest speaker speeches, wear their caps and gowns and walk at safe social distances across a raised stage to receive their diplomas, while family members watched from their cars. • Established a Reopening Plan Committee to prepare for students’ fall return. Special Education Schools & Programs Starting in mid-March, EASTCONN special education teachers redesigned their in-person K-12 classroom plans for schooling at home. They applied best practices and provided engaging, interactive learning activities to support the individual learning objectives of their students. Home-school lessons and activities were delivered via secure online platforms to students in our 2 Clinical Day Treatment programs, Autism Program, Regional Transition Services program and Woodstock Academy Cooperative. Staff continued to respond with sensitivity to the communication and social-emotional needs of their students and families, to help them manage schoolwork at home, and the stresses attendant with isolation, social distancing and self-quarantine. During the remainder of the school year, our school administrators, teachers and nurses regularly connected with students and families, more often when needed, and provided connections to critical family resources and supports.
• EASTCONN Autism Program (EAP): Professional staff built a comprehensive, at-home learning plan for EAP’s 16 students, using key principles and overall goals to guide the delivery of critical supports, not only to students, but to their families. The personalized, online learning program responded to students’ Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), promoted their functional independence and communication, and continued growing their use of generalization in www.eastconn.org 5.
ANNUAL REPORT | 2019-2020 their home settings. Key elements included sparking student motivation and supporting families with new learning to support their more structured role as athome teachers. Staff prepared weekly learning materials and dropped them off, and then worked on them virtually with students. Staff also provided supports to families who were struggling.
• Clinical Day Treatment (CDT) Programs: Teachers and staff in our Northeast Regional Program (NRP) and Educational Vocational Center (EVC) provided ongoing, virtual classroom-learning and emotional support to students and their families to ensure that student pathways to online learning and support were optimized. Our CDT programs graduated 6 seniors via an online platform. Special education professionals worked with EASTCONN’s Technology group and families to identify and provide 65 CDT families (representing 65% of CDT students) with programmed laptops, so students could access the new, online curriculum. • Professional Learning: Psychological and Behavioral Consultation (PBC) staff provided 12 high-quality, free, online webinars, materials and PD to paraeducators statewide; the paraeducator training website had more than 5,000 unique visitors, with 15,000 sessions attended by paraeducators from 300 cities/towns across the state and across the Northeast; PBC’s online PD had reached 18,182 views by June 30th. • Related Services: Staff continued supporting the related services needs of 11 schools and 7 EASTCONN programs through continued-learning-at-home services. Depending on student and family needs, services ranged from delivering paper packets, to virtual sessions, using a variety of platforms and videos to train parents in how to use a variety of devices with students who had multiple disabilities. Assistive Technology (AT) professionals consulted with districts, providing multiple virtual supports. AT staff collaborated with the CT Tech Act to address the needs of isolated seniors during COVID-19 to ensure they could access telehealth and have access to social engagement opportunities. Virtual sessions with speech-language, occupational therapy and physical therapy professionals continued to be delivered remotely to students across the EASTCONN region. 6. www.eastconn.org
• Regional Transition Services: Staff provided 9 students with at-home, virtual learning; 2 students were on track to graduate at an outdoor August awards ceremony. All 14 Woodstock Academy Cooperative students participated in online learning.
Leading & Learning (L&L) Once schools closed on March 13, EASTCONN’s L&L team quickly and resolutely reimagined its work to support districts and educators during the pandemic. One highlight of their work included responding to and supporting a CSDE request for assistance, by curating a repository of virtual resources and online best-practices and sharing them in a series of live documents on the RESC Alliance website; the site and its resources were accessed by thousands of teachers statewide. As the L&L team worked in response to educators’ needs, both regionally and statewide, other highlights included:
• Offering 100+ free, virtual, professional learning sessions, accessed by 4,000+ users from districts across Connecticut. L&L’s How-To online sessions explored topics like Zoom, Screencastify, Padlet and other tools for digital teaching and collaboration. Other HowTo sessions on SEL covered topics like creating an online community, managing triggers and developing self-agency. Added topics included instructional designs, project-based learning during distance-learning, conferring in a virtual setting, online science simulations and digital citizenship, to mention only a few. • Provided two 6-week Paraeducator Training modules for 40+ paraeducators and instructional assistants. • Held weekly, virtual Regional Staff Development Council meetings for education leaders across our region to ensure ongoing communication and collaborative planning, as well as to share weekly updates and guidelines from the CSDE, state health departments and the federal CDC. • Our 3 Interdistrict Grants went virtual; our staff created 200+ activity bags that were distributed to students to engage them in online lessons that were shared with their teachers; staff also designed and launched virtual field trips and lessons, engaging 1,200+ student participants.
ANNUAL REPORT | 2019-2020 • Windham After-School Grant staff built an archive of online video content, including read-alouds, virtual field trips and cooking lessons, even hosting guest animals like ferrets and goats; staff also created and distributed 50+ packages of reading materials, journals, coloring supplies and family games.
Organizational Support This umbrella division includes departments that are focused primarily on ensuring that the agency’s basic operations run smoothly throughout the year. During the pandemic, these critical departments geared up to provide behind-the-scenes support, responding to agency challenges during a time of unprecedented need. Organizational Support departments include the Business Office; Facilities; Food & Hospitality Services; Human Resources; Marketing, Communication & Web Development; Security & Investigations; and Transportation.
• Business Office: Staff continued to provide inter-agency budgetary and financial planning support during the pandemic, while closely monitoring the agency’s cash flow, using a variety of strategies with vendors and agency partners to ensure that our payroll obligations were met. Staff worked both remotely and on-site in Hampton to help all EASTCONN departments and directors address and resolve budgetary concerns and developments throughout the crisis. • Facilities: After overseeing the professional deep-cleaning of all of 15 EASTCONN sites, Facilities staff continued with regular maintenance and ongoing updates and repairs. Closely adhering to health and safety guidelines, and in close coordination with Human Resources, Facilities workers began preparing all EASTCONN schools and sites for a safe reopening and staff/students’ return. Workers rearranged classrooms and office spaces; installed safe-distancing shields for common areas; posted health and safety signage for all EASTCONN buildings, and much more. • Food Services: March 16th - June 30th this group had prepared and distributed 149,566 emergency meals for more than 750 children and families. Breakfasts and lunches were available for daily pick-up at eight northeastern Connecticut schools. Following state and federal guidelines, staff obtained permission to deliver meals to the homes of families who
might otherwise go hungry. Staff followed clear-cut, mandated USDA, state and federal health and safety protocols at all times. By June 30th, the state waiver was approved by the USDA to allow Food Services to continue its work to prepare and distribute emergency meals throughout the summer. The meal distribution program was approved to operate until the first day of school.
• Human Resources: HR staff continued supporting agency staff as they navigated new norms and remote working conditions. Working at home themselves, HR staff managed agency employment, health insurance and business needs, among other things, and kept EASTCONN employees up-to-date on new and developing COVID-19 plans, state mandates, health alerts and reopening information. • Marketing, Communication & Website: Staff created a COVID-19 Information pop-up on the agency’s website landing page, continuously updating and curating content for staff, students and parents with links to: health advisories; CSDE, state and federal websites; school-home communications in both English and Spanish; learning-from-home plans; free professional learning resources and sessions; emergency student-meal distribution info, and more. The pop-up and website attracted thousands of new visitors (ex: April website Page Views numbered 33,337, up 42%; Sessions reached 16,799, up 69.7%). Web and Marketing staff ensured that all content was ADA compliant. Staff restructured Adult Programs’ employment and training web pages to improve access to new, online training and education programs for unemployed adults and youth. Staff supplied school-parent communication assistance and maintained clear agency messaging throughout. Refocused agency Facebook pages shared not only good news about agency programs, but links to free agency PD; followers grew 15% to 1,080. Throughout, staff maintained production schedules for agency reports, press releases, subscription-based newsletters, and more. • Security & Investigations: This group continued to provide security across all agency sites throughout COVID-19-related closures, including administrative offices in Hampton, where critical staff were allowed to work during limited hours, with health and safety protocols firmly enforced. www.eastconn.org 7.
ANNUAL REPORT | 2019-2020 • Transportation: After sanitizing, inventorying equipment and providing maintenance for all 130 agency buses/vehicles, staff identified a series of additional cost-saving measures, including working with our insurer to legally suspend our vehicles’ use, and temporarily pulling back driver cell phones. Staff constructed cost analyses to support their financial negotiations with districts, and continued to schedule drivers’ mandated trainings and certification requirements, as well as trainings on new routing software. Plans were made to ensure bus interiors were safe when students returned.
Technology Solutions Student Support: Prior to helping launch and support EASTCONN’s distance-learning classrooms in mid-March, staff quickly mobilized to re-program dozens of laptops, eventually preparing and delivering a total of 162 free Chromebooks, 11 PC laptops and 7 iPads to EASTCONN students and/or others who lacked working computers at home; without them, students couldn’t access online learning. Employing clear safety protocols, IT staff distributed the free devices to students during special hours at an EASTCONN site. Staff also arranged for 21 free Wi-Fi “hot spots” for students who wouldn’t otherwise have access to online classrooms and services. In response to student/family computer needs during schooling at home, IT staff initiated a Student Help Desk, providing quick access to technical assistance; dozens of EASTCONN students benefited from the individual technical assistance.
Staff Support: Technology staff also established new, technical-support strategies and provisions for all EASTCONN non-certified and certified staff, who were dealing with unanticipated challenges that emerged while working, teaching and learning at home. Technology reported that agency staff requests for IT support were up more than 50% between mid-March and mid-June. Limited bandwidth issues for some staff created new challenges. Technology launched an in-house-designed, cyber-security training for all EASTCONN employees, especially critical while the vast majority of staff were working from home. Family & Statewide Support: While providing agency-wide technical support, staff also honored their external-customer commitments, including designing and launching a new parent observation portal to our CTDOTS Online software under an extremely tight timeline. The new portal gave parents and caregivers the opportunity to provide critical observation data on child development during site and program closures, where teacher observations would normally take place. The portal was being used to make observations for more than 4,000 students during school closures.
Graphic images and screen shots depict a variety of moments and online materials used by EASTCONN and other partners to communicate positive messages, learning tools and other information during the pandemic.