At the start of the pandemic, we released our Back-to-School Blueprint, an interactive series of research-based, online action guides on supporting learning during the 2020-21 school year and beyond. As the next phase of this work, we are highlighting “A Year in the Life” of a single Massachusetts school district: Somerville Public Schools. Our aim is to gain a clearer sense of the bright spots and challenges of this school year by digging deep into the experiences of one community, in order to understand what students and schools need right now, how they can most effectively move forward, and how communities and policymakers across the state can support them.
In Spring 2021, we released a series of dispatches on “A Year in the Life” of Somerville Public Schools, focusing on essential topics such as remote learning and community-school connections. These dispatches are grounded in in-depth conversations with a range of stakeholders and community members, including students, families, educators, and district leaders. Over the summer, we shared a comprehensive research and policy review that delves into the strategies discussed in each dispatch, offering research-based recommendations and tools for other districts and schools eager to build on the work we describe.
DISPATCH #1: A Closer Look at Somerville
In many ways, Somerville is unique. New England’s most densely populated community, it features a diverse population of blue-collar families, young professionals, and recently arrived immigrants. Somerville is characterized by a high level of cohesion among leaders from the city and school district and residents' civic pride is evident. But despite Somerville’s distinctive nature, its experiences amid the pandemic reflect those of cities and towns around the Commonwealth. Understanding how these trends have played out in one district will allow us to tell a broader story about education in Massachusetts amid the pandemic: what have been the core challenges? What has gone well, in spite of all the obstacles? For this initial dispatch, we spoke with some of the leaders who have been steering the district for the past year: Mayor Joe Curtatone, School Committee Chair Andre Green, and Superintendent Mary Skipper. Read on for more on their reflections as well as background information on the city of Somerville, its schools, and its students.
DISPATCH #2: Remote Learning
There are as many stories of remote learning as there are participants in it. But after listening to students, parents, teachers, and staff who have taken part in remote learning in Somerville Public Schools over the past year, a number of themes have emerged that bring a broader story into focus. For teachers, school leaders, and district officials charged with bringing students back to school after a disrupted year, it is critical to figure out what can be learned from the past year to build a stronger education system long-term. The themes we describe in this set of blog posts can serve as starting points for conversations on how to build/rebuild relationships, offer relevant and engaging instruction, and leverage the power of technology in new ways, in Somerville and beyond.
DISPATCH #3: Community Connections
Over the past year, school and community have merged like never before. COVID-19 has highlighted the role that schools play as community hubs and remote learning brought renewed attention to how family and community members work together to support learning. This emphasized the need for consistent and clear communication among the diverse individuals and institutions that support students. Understanding the past year, especially in light of the inequities exposed by the pandemic, requires examining how district and school leaders engaged with the community at large—including families, community organizations, and other city departments—and what lessons can be drawn from this time. These dispatched examine two key components of community-school connections: community services and communications.
DISPATCH #4: What Comes Next?
What comes next after the disruptions of the last year? For students in the class of 2021, what will they do now that high school has come to a close? How can returning students—as well as families, staff, and community partners—prepare mentally, emotionally, and academically for the start of a new school year this fall? How can district leaders think about fundamentally transforming the education system in response to the effects of the pandemic, and the inequities that it highlighted and exacerbated? In the final set of dispatches, we examine these and related questions, zeroing in on the transition to postsecondary for graduating students and preparation for the coming school year.
ACTION GUIDE: Lessons Learned from Somerville Public Schools
This action guide offers strategies for moving forward in this school year and beyond. It includes a variety of critical resources for supporting students, families, educators, and district staff amid the recent and ongoing challenges of the pandemic. While there is much more work to be done to identify and share effective practices for a post-COVID education landscape, we hope our "Year in the Life" project represents a starting point for those efforts.