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How Rainier Valley Leadership Academy embodies the collaborative community building model during COVID-19

Apr 30, 2020 | Blog

Today, we all find ourselves in a challenging world. Stay-at-home orders and school building closures mean that all learning has moved online and the personal connections in school settings are now digital. Schools, students, families and the community have all had to make significant adjustments to daily life.

Rainier Valley Leadership Academy, (RVLA) a public, tuition-free, college preparatory charter school in Southeast Seattle, was prepared to support their Scholars and the broader community when hardships hit.

“Our philosophy is to provide as much support as possible,” said Principal, Baionne Coleman. “We are committed to customer service for our families and the community.”

RVLA is built upon a foundation that relationships come first.

With the pillars of anti-racism, leadership, and collaborative community, RVLA activates a unique mentorship model that supports students and families through the learning process.

Mentors connect with Scholars throughout the day, integrating a social-emotional learning curriculum into academics. Mentors are the touchpoints families rely on to connect with the school and the community partners supporting their Scholars. During the COVID-19 outbreak, these touchpoints and social-emotional learning are more important than ever for the long-term mental health of students.

RVLA is committed to keeping learning going – even during the crisis.

In short order after the COVID-19 crisis hit our education community, RVLA supported families with Xfinity internet plans for scholars who have limited access to reliable internet connectivity. They are also working with a family to convert a phone into a wifi hotspot while waiting for a reliable one on back order.

RVLA has developed a complete schedule of faculty and staff time to ensure that Scholars and families get the personal check-ins they need throughout the week. This includes Mentors speaking with families twice a week, teachers holding office hours to support class work daily, clinicians supporting social-emotional learning by connecting with Scholars weekly, and video recordings of their Second Step social-emotional learning curriculum.

Teachers are volunteering extra time to participate in work groups to figure out how the school can modify curriculum for the year using their online learning platforms: Apex, Google Classroom and YouTube. Additionally, all of the curriculum has Spanish and Somali translation options. 

But establishing a digital curriculum is only one piece of a complex puzzle. “You have to think about the family dynamics,” said Coleman. “Some families are 5 or 6 people all trying to work and learn from home at the same time. Some older siblings are supporting their younger siblings during the day while mom and dad are working.

Lots of schools are setting 9 am-2 pm schedules, but that’s not actually equitable. We know that some Scholars might be doing homework at 10 pm, because that’s when mom got home and their duties caring for younger siblings are relieved.”

Through the Mentor program and ongoing school communications about resources, RVLA is helping Scholars’ siblings in the traditional public school system access the resources available to them through Seattle Public Schools to holistically support families. And to ensure supportive services are available, Mentors have access to a remote referral process to mental health clinicians if and when Scholars need extra support.

It’s not just the RVLA Scholars the school is supporting, it’s the whole community.

Some families are dealing with crippling job losses and slow access to unemployment and stimulus funds. Some families were already receiving financial assistance and don’t qualify for additional funds.

Because of the community partnership model RVLA has cultivated, people are coming together to support one another. A caring donor wanted to support both RVLA families and the local community. Their family generously donated gift cards from a local restaurant so families can purchase meals. This same restaurant often packs extra food for local families in need, beyond the value of the gift cards.

The Urban League also reached out to RVLA to partner on food delivery for their community. The school was able to open part of its facility for the Urban League to provide free Halal dinners to the local community twice a week. For the large Muslim population in the area this is a big deal because other food supply options are not Halal. They are also providing food bags for the whole community – not just school families – with Halal, diabetic, vegan and vegetarian options which families can order in advance once a week.

“We are so proud to have a locale that the Urban League can rely on to get food out to the whole community,” said Coleman. “For folks to step up and step forward like this is really a blessing. It’s our passion to embody being a collaborative community school and to have partners that really serve the whole community. This is us living out our pillars. We can’t do this alone.”

Join the RVLA Community

RVLA is enrolling now. Learn more on their website.

How you can help

Support RVLA directly: RVLA is delivering on its mission every day through this time of crisis. But they can’t do it alone. The community partnership model helps galvanize resources to make sure that the whole community has what they need. And for those resource gaps, the school has set-up a go-fund-me page. Give today!

Support urgent COVID-19 across the charter school sector: With your support, RVLA and our other member public charter schools can continue to meet the needs of students and families in the community.  Learn more about our COVID-19 Response Fund!