Phoenix district working to connect with 'every student, every day' during school closures

Posted at 1:48 PM, Apr 21, 2020

PHOENIX — Checking in with students and their families during school closures is not always an easy task but the need goes far beyond academics.

With 20 schools and close to 30,000 students Phoenix Union is one of the largest high school districts in the country.

"It's a heavy lift but it's probably the most important initiative we've launched," said Superintendent Chad Gestson.

That initiative is called "Every Student, Every Day," a pledge to reach all 30,000 students every day for the rest of the school year.

Teachers and staff throughout the district are each assigned to make about 10 wellness calls a day, checking on the same students every time.

"We're asking really simple questions," Gestson said. "How are you doing emotionally? Do you need any food? How's your online learning going, do you have a laptop? Do you have connectivity? Has anyone lost their job recently?"

In just the first couple of weeks common concerns have already surfaced.

"There's a lot of food insecurity in the house," said Gestson. "We're also seeing youth that are feeling really isolated and want to reconnect with their peers. With isolation comes depression and anxiety, so we're seeing an increased need for social work and counseling services."

The district has reached about 85% of its students so far, or about 24,000. It is a big number, but they're concerned about the other 5,000 or so who haven't been contacted. Teachers and staff are now combing through emergency contacts, email addresses and even knocking on doors to make sure those students are okay.

"We do not want to lose sight of our kids all the way up to the start of school next year," said Gestson.

ABC15 looked through more than 700 remote learning plans recently submitted to the state Board of Education. Nearly all of the district and charter schools said they expect weekly communication with students and parents, at the very least. Many are striving for some form of daily contact, through phone calls, emails or online learning platforms.

"We take that for granted, that we see them 180-200 days a year and we can't let that connection stop," Gestson said.