Sharisse Baltimore, the Parent Advisory Council president at Friendship Public Charter School Blow Pierce Campus (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)
Sharisse Baltimore, the Parent Advisory Council president at Friendship Public Charter School Blow Pierce Campus (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

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With their children learning at home for more than a year, parents had ample opportunity to engage teachers and help their young ones navigate the virtual learning environment.

This arrangement, in many cases, strengthened parents’ ties to their school community.

To keep up the momentum, the Parent Advisory Council (PAC) at Friendship Public Charter School Blow Pierce Campus has provided virtual yoga sessions, wellness offerings to parents, along with soon-to-come game nights and healthy cooking demonstrations.

PAC President Sharisse Baltimore said the programming will encourage parents to collaborate with teachers as they address socioemotional issues students developed during the pandemic.

“Children are coming in with emotional problems, being trapped in the house for the last year and a half,” said Baltimore, a mother of three elementary school-aged children who currently attend Friendship PCS Blow Pierce Campus.

+Baltimore took over Friendship PCS Blow Pierce’s PAC in the fall of 2019, just months before COVID-19 forced schools to shutter.

Throughout the pandemic, she maintained contact with parents, but found that her struggles to engage them persisted, even though they spent more time at home with their children. In speaking with some of them, Baltimore recalled learning about economic stressors and unease about being more directly involved in their child’s education.

“Parents have to take into consideration that [when] they’re going through financial problems, all of that trickles down to their child who comes into the building and deals with the teacher who tries to educate them,” Baltimore added.

“I want to work with our parents to change our attitudes [so] we can become one big family.”

Addressing Mental and Behavioral Health 

A report published by the D.C. Policy Center in March found that District children who stayed home during the pandemic experienced social isolation, anxiety and depression. As adults increasingly reported symptoms of anxiety and depression, experts anticipated the likelihood of unreported and undetected child abuse cases.

During budget season earlier this year, education advocates in the charter sector lobbied D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) to invest in mental and behavioral health resources. This happened as the District and other jurisdictions received an infusion of dollars from the American Rescue Plan.

As part of a mental health expansion, 60 public charter schools, including Friendship PCS Blow Pierce Campus, connected with community-based organizations for mental and behavioral health services. Each school has a behavioral health coordinator who works with a student support team that refers students for services.

SMILE Therapy Services, based in Northeast, serves as Friendship PCS Blow Pierce’s community-based organization. As outlined on its website, SMILE’s treatment areas include children and adolescents, therapy for depression and anxiety, and trauma therapy.

Staff members at SMILE didn’t return The Informer’s inquiry about its role in tackling mental and behavioral health issues.

Bringing Parents into the Classroom 

On Aug. 23, Friendship PCS Blow Pierce Campus opened its doors to new–and returning–students and families. For the first couple of days, students, particularly those in the lower levels, didn’t spend all their time in the classroom. School officials instead conducted special activities and hosted meetings with parents.

After that, school officials, to prevent the spread of COVID, would no longer allow parents inside the school building.

This year, cases of separation anxiety, more so than in previous years, have occurred among PK-4 students still getting used to learning outside of the confines of their home. In anticipation of this developmental hurdle, instructors utilized video conferencing apps to connect young ones with their parents during the lunch hour.

As students ate lunch, a peer’s parent or guardian addressed the class and spurred a moment of excitement. Dominique Foster, a PK-4 teacher, said this strategy maintained bonds that children, parents, and teachers established during the pandemic.

“Parents got to see how students learned and they saw the strategies teachers used. They got to see their children’s growth,” said Foster, a teacher of nearly two decades who’s in her ninth year at Friendship PCS Blow-Pierce Campus.

“When we can make them partners, it makes our job easier. As a student, you want to see your parents proud of you and parents want to see their children grow. We have to figure out a way they can stay connected.”

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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