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Post-COVID: We’re still learning

The COVID-19 pandemic has lasted longer than any of us expected, as will the lessons this experience has exposed. Earlier this year, NCCAA covered some of the benefits the virus left in its wake. Below are a few more positive changes and insights community action leaders are seeing arise from COVID-19.

Expanded educational opportunities for clients

In our last blog post, we noted briefly that some agencies started offering online training to keep opportunities open for clients. What we didn’t mention is that the list of opportunities has grown exponentially from this shift.

“Before the pandemic, we offered job training programs where clients came to us, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday,” said Seth Friedman, CEO of Passage Home in Raleigh. Pre-pandemic, Friedman’s organization offered six to eight courses throughout the year. “Now, our offerings are in the thousands. Anything you can do remotely, you can learn remotely with us.”

In fact, even jobs requiring some hands-on learning can be had through Passage Home, which partners with ProTrain, a remote-learning organization that has an extensive catalog of employment-focused courses. So, for instance, students could study to become a phlebotomist, the person who takes blood samples from patients for medical testing. “The test is live and in-person, but a person can do the 40 hours of study they need on their own. That means they don’t need to sacrifice by losing hours at work or paying for childcare to make this training and job change happen,” Friedman noted. “This really makes our programs and resources more accessible to clients.”

Awareness of collateral crises

A tornado may blow through town, but it blows away quickly, and people can get on with the business of restoration. The prolonged timeline of the COVID crisis brought collateral damage, and that brought an expanded awareness of issues community action leaders are now addressing.

“The biggest COVID impact on our community was the closure of local businesses: one large manufacturing facility and several retail or food establishments,” said Melissa Soto, executive director of W.A.M.Y. Community Action. “This left many unemployed or with reduced hours and, as a result, unable to pay their bills.”

Folks were unable to buy groceries, too, and food insecurity soared nationwide during COVID. It’s still way higher than it was, noted Vick Heidinger, executive director of Community Action Opportunities in Asheville. “Food banks have two basic models. One is the model where they purchase the food necessary to support their community. The other model is that they subsist on donations and volunteers,” she explained. “Our food bank is based on the second model.”

When COVID hit, demand spiked right when supply and volunteer support dwindled. Even today, the food bank has about 50 percent of the supplies it really needs, so Heidinger’s agency donated some of its CARES funding. Heidinger also has invited the food bank to participate in her agency’s United Way rally. Partnerships with other agencies grew because of COVID, and they’ll likely be an integral part of service delivery going forward, particularly with issues that have settled in for the long term, such as food insecurity.

Another secondary impact of COVID that agencies now are planning to address is increased violence. Friedman said his agency already has gun violence policies in place for both internal and external events. Those policies and prescribed actions aim to protect staff from an active shooter.

Ashville’s agency added building safety to its planning and policy development recently. “It’s a spinoff of the whole COVID thing. A lot of people have had more issues around isolation, and it's driving more violence. As a public agency with an unlocked front door, we’ve had to re-assess our building safety and risks,” Heidinger said.

Getting schooled

Asheville’s community action team – like many others – helped school children switch from classrooms to online learning. Among the kids who received iPads from the organization, a study was conducted to see which worked best: sitting in class or studying online. As it turns out, neither approach was a clear winner. However, there was a loser: hybrid approaches to classroom time.

“We did data analysis on the children's outcomes for the children who had completely remote school schedules,” Heidinger said. “These are the kids who stayed home all year and they used their computers to continue their education and their development.”

Those children were compared to kids who went to in-person school in the 2021-2022 school year as well as those whose studies were partly remote and partly in person. “We expected to see a difference in the children's outcomes for those that were mostly or all remote, and that's not what we saw,” Heidinger explained. Children who spent the year remotely had outcomes comparable to those in school every day. “If whatever children did day after day was consistent, those children performed better than the children that had the back-and-forth hybrid classes. The kids with lower outcomes were those who studied under hybrid schedules, going to school one day and staying at home another.”

Heidinger thinks these results offer yet another COVID-based lesson. Children need consistency and structure to succeed, she said.

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1 Comment

This is a very strong post, I haven't read anything like this for a long time, I completely agree with what the author has written, we are still learning from the mistakes we made during the coronavirus epidemic. So, for example, I have not been able to learn Arabic, but thank God that a translator helps with this and it is quite easy and convenient to translate from english to arabic, but I am still going to my goal of learning foreign languages, so having learned the lessons of the past, I will do everything right.

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