HUDSON — The Hudson City School District is offering free Zoom workshops for parents and caregivers as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and an increased number of in-person students is expected for the second semester.
The school district is preparing to transition more K-12 students to in-person learning for the third quarter, which begins Feb. 1. Grades 11 and 12 will have the option to come to school twice a week, Superintendent of Schools Maria Lagana Suttmeier said. Grades 11 and 12 have been fully remote while all other grades had a hybrid model, according to the school’s reopening plan.
A remote high school student and a high school student who was last on campus Jan. 11, recently tested positive for COVID-19, Suttmeier wrote in a letter to the district dated Jan. 12. A fully remote high school student who has not been present on campus, an elementary school substitute teacher who was last in school Jan. 5, and a bus driver who is not a district employee but had contact with students also tested positive for the virus, Suttmeier wrote in a Jan. 15 letter.
“I know it seems these notifications are getting repetitive but we are committed to keep you informed as new cases arise,” she wrote.
The school district has had 33 students and staff test positive for the virus in total, 20 of which were students, according to the New York State COVID Report Card, updated Jan. 15. Of those 20 students, seven had recently been at school and 13 were either remote learners or had not been at school during the period they would have been contagious.
The five workshops will take place over the next few months, all hosted by Jennifer Bashant, founder of Building Better Futures, based in Albany. Bashant provides workshops and coaching for businesses, educators and parents.
She will be hosting “A COVID-19 Playbook for Parents” on Jan. 21, “Ways to Increase Your Child’s Motivation” on Jan. 27, “Natural Ways to Boost Your Mood” on Feb. 23, “Recognizing and Coping with Your Child’s Anxiety (And Yours)” on March 9 and “Address Defiant Behavior and Bring More Peace to Your Home” on March 25. All sessions are free to participants, begin at 7 p.m. and do not require advance registration. The workshop links and descriptions are available on the Hudson City School District website.
“The topics for this series were selected based on informal conversations with building administrators and teachers about the increasing academic and social-emotional struggles our students are having, whether they are learning from home or in school, due to the restrictions from the pandemic,” April Prestipino, assistant superintendent for school improvement, said. “And because we have so many students that are 100% virtual, or are in school on a hybrid schedule, our opportunity to provide the support we typically would is severely reduced, placing this responsibility on our parents, more so now than ever before. Our hope is that these workshops will provide parents with some simple strategies they can use with their children, and even on themselves, to reduce the stress, increase academic engagement and promote a more calm environment at home.” The workshops fuze material Bashant already had with information tailored to Hudson families, Bashant said. Bashant worked with Prestipino on the curriculum. The two first started talking about the COVID-19 workshops shortly before the holidays.
“She was pretty quick to make decisions and she really wanted to roll this out quickly,” Bashant said of Prestipino.
Bashant’s parent workshops cost the school $300 each, totalling $1,500 for the five sessions, which is a “very low price” for the service, Bashant said. “I do that on purpose because a lot of schools haven’t traditionally prioritized parent education,” she said. “I really wanted to make it affordable so if they haven’t done it before, they would consider offering parents these resources now.”
She emphasized her willingness to answer parent questions during and after the workshops as part of the service.
“I always get several parents reaching out,” she said. “Sometimes they are reaching out for mental health referrals, sometimes they’re reaching out with a specific situation they’re dealing with and want to ask my advice.”
One issue Bashant and Prestipino identified is that students are spending a lot of time with technology and it is difficult to keep them engaged in their learning.
“She [Prestipino] shared that teachers are really having some struggles with the remote learning and there are all kinds of issues that are coming up,” Bashant said.
The school district was looking for ways to support parents with higher anxiety levels at home and social isolation, Bashant said. There are ways parents can help their kids break up their days, deal with fears of the unknown and be motivated to do their work.
Bashant worked with Hudson educators several years ago on how to use data to inform their teaching, she said. It is her first time working with families from the district.
Before the pandemic hit, her workshops were all in person, she said. The online format has allowed her to expand her reach to California, Wisconsin and the United Kingdom.
More parents are participating virtually than they did in person, she said.
“I think one, because it’s easy to just click on a link from home and not have to worry about getting a baby sitter or not having to leave the house in the middle of the winter when it’s cold and dark and the weather is sad, but also because a lot of what I talk about are sensitive topics and people may not want to come sit in a workshop about anxiety,” she said.
Some may not want others to know about their struggles and the Zoom format allows for anonymity, she added.
There were 40-50 parents at a typical pre-pandemic workshop and now she sometimes gets over 100 participants, she said. She plans to offer in-person and remote options once it’s safe, but will recommend the online format.
Since the pandemic began, her workshops have had a lot more focus on anxiety, she said.
“In the past, my trainings were more focused on how to address mental health trauma and now I’m more focused on mindset and resilience and basically helping people navigate this challenging time versus trying to manage symptoms,” she said. “You pretty much know most people are struggling in one way or another.”
She called her new approach “strength-based.”