While we all learn to navigate these mid-pandemic waters with varying degrees of gathering and then social distancing again, I find myself treasuring any opportunity to meet with co-workers in person. As an extrovert, my ideal work environment includes harnessing energy from group dynamics, thinking out loud and the collaborative power of team-oriented environments. Quarantine working conditions have left a few boxes unticked for folks like me.
Not all connections are the same
Last month, our entire VILLAGE team had the opportunity to gather for the first time face to face at our inaugural summit. Team members from both coasts convened in Eau Claire for three days and oddly enough for a tech startup, the conversation rarely centered around technology. We had the opportunity to get to know each other better in real-time, share meals, talk about interests that fall outside of the workday, and have frank conversations about the values we want our company to uphold. And even though we returned to our virtual offices, the connections we made have already enhanced our work.
While the virtual reality we found ourselves working in over the last couple of years didn't begin to capture the complexity and nuances of adult interaction, the impact on our children has been nothing less than devastating. During this global pandemic, we have seen historical inequities expand and become blatantly obvious in every component of our ruptured social fabric. Access to all of the things we know can benefit a child’s development (exposure to hands-on learning, access to the arts, more time outside, small group opportunities, space to rest and reflect, etc.) became commonplace for some and almost entirely nonexistent for others.
Staffing shortages in districts across the country are front-page news. And just like other stark realities of inequity, these shortages are hitting high-poverty schools disproportionately. Districts are reporting critical needs in the area of para-educators, transportation workers, nurses, janitors, special education teachers, and extra-curricular staff. It is not hard to imagine how these disruptions will result in long-lasting instructional deficits.
We don’t have to look far to witness the impact that a caring adult can make in the life of a child and we never know where that connection might occur. It may be the cafeteria worker who notices a child in need of an extra portion of lunch, the coach who creates space after practice for homework help, or the ESOL teacher who takes extra steps to make sure a student’s parents understand important information about upcoming school events.
With 80% of a child’s waking hours spent outside of a K-12 classroom, the opportunities for caring adults in all of our communities to fill the roles of teacher, mentor, and coach are countless. Our mission at Village is to turn local communities into classrooms that put every learner first. There is no panacea up our sleeves, but we are fueled by the belief that by connecting families, providers, and donors, every community has the power to create a thriving market for out-of-school education.
Our team is excited to begin facilitating these in-person connections starting this week when we help Power of Perception (P.O.P.) accept online registrations for its upcoming Holiday Celebration. P.O.P.’s founder and CEO, Dennis Beale, launched his mentoring program for black and bi-racial youth right before the pandemic changed life as we know it. He was able to successfully pivot and keep his students engaged through virtual mentoring sessions, but the connection and engagement he reports since being able to safely meet in person are inspiring. We are beyond honored that our first registration will be in service to this amazing provider. Look for more information about Dennis and P.O.P. in our recap of this December 18th event!