Arizona Public Schools:
The Heart of Our Communities
Since the threat of the Coronavirus first reached Arizona in early March, it has never been more clear that, for more than a million children, our public schools are the heart of our communities.
Food, shelter, comfort, a sense of belonging these are things we can all agree human beings need. Educators refer to those as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and, as any teacher worth their salt will tell you, kids must have these needs met before they can get to the business of learning. And that’s why our neighborhood public schools serve the most important function in our state.
In the face of sudden closures, Arizona schools mobilized instantly to address these basic needs, ensuring food, learning, and a sense of community would not lapse in this time of crisis.
Since the first school closures were announced, Arizona’s public schools have stepped up to feed hundreds of thousands of meals to children all around the state, many of whom rely almost exclusively on their school cafeteria because their family income makes adequate nutrition at home difficult.
In nearly every public district in the state, administrators, support staff, and educators immediately went to work organizing distribution sites and sending out these vital communications to families. These school food banks have even advertised they will not turn away any child, meaning they are serving children from charter and private schools, no questions asked.
In Mesa alone, more than 10,000 students have been fed through the generosity of school employees who have packed and safely distributed meals, hygiene essentials, and more. Tens of thousands of meals are being passed out every single day. Here is a list of hundreds of food distribution centers across Maricopa County.
In addition to food, our local public schools from Yuma to Window Rock activated their networks quickly to ensure that students would continue to receive a quality education. Schools have worked quickly to connect students with free books, learning packets, laptops and Internet services. Educators have pivoted to learn new skills in order to best serve and support their students.
In Scottsdale and Tempe, teachers and staff sanitized and organized tablets for families to pick up and use at home if they did not have technology of their own. In remote areas with less reliable Internet, like Window Rock, public school employees have been creating hundreds of paper packets and print materials for school officials to deliver to families all across the reservation.
Schools have even found ways to promote shelter, comfort, and the sense of belonging that characterize Arizona’s neighborhood schools. In Phoenix Union, one high school principal was alerted by the campus surveillance system that there were individuals on campus after the shutdowns were announced. Upon investigating, it was discovered the students were trying to pick up a WiFi signal to complete their homework — in the rain. The principal came to the school and opened the building, recognizing that coming to school to do homework was as much about having a safe place as it was about any academic obligations.
At the elementary level, schools have worked quickly to connect families with affordable child care options. Teachers across the state are connecting with their students via teleconference class meetings, journaling, phone calls, and videos, ensuring that the classroom community that’s been built over the course of eight months is maintained.
Our local public schools know that serving our students with special learning needs remotely becomes even more difficult in times like these. Many special education teachers have continued to hold IEP (Individual Education Plan) meetings with parents without interruption, transferring in-person conversations to conference calls and videos. Parents in the Kyrene district have reported that, even before they realized school closures were continuing, their children’s special education teachers were reaching out to assure them they would be there for them no matter what. A family in Chandler even reported their son’s instructional aide delivered a special box of Braille materials for their blind son.
Heartwarming stories of teachers’ actions continue to pour in from around the state, and show that Arizona teachers lead with heart and strive to always create the sense of community that allows kids to learn. Teachers have led car parades in neighborhoods, dropped off books to students’ homes, made videos to cheer up their schools, and more. There’s no limit to the creativity and thoughtfulness with which Arizona teachers have approached this situation.
Now more than ever, we see that neighborhood public schools are so much more than math, writing, and recess. They’re family, they’re security, and they’re a safety blanket. In too many cases, they are the only source of stability, nutrition, or community in a child’s life — and that is why it’s essential that we fund and prioritize these schools. If the privatizers had their way, and all schooling in Arizona was simply a patchwork of companies and on cost-based memberships, how many students would be left feeling hungry, scared, or alone right now?
Our public schools are the centers of our community. They are equitable, inclusive, and built upon the belief that every child belongs and succeeds. Now more than ever, we see direct evidence that children thrive when we prioritize our public schools.