When the order came in mid-March to close down public school facilities in Los Angeles, the Downtown Value School staff knew they would have to move fast to make sure the rest of the year’s curriculum wouldn’t be lost. Pivoting to full-time learning at home meant empowering parents to take the lead in providing the safe, nurturing environment education requires. 

Isabel Paterson
Downtown Value School Parent Center Coordinator Isabel Patterson (second top left)

Fortunately, Downtown Value was well prepared to do so, because Parent Center Coordinator Isabel Patterson had already built deep connections with our parents. They knew her from school meetings and parent groups covering everything from anti-bullying discussions to yoga and Zumba classes. They knew they could trust her to help them navigate their new roles as home teachers and technology advisors to their young children.

Ms. Patterson knew immediately that she needed a strong partner on the teaching staff to help with this transition, so she reached out to longtime Downtown Value educator Ana Villanueva. Together they had a singular focus on families, setting out to learn “What do parents need to have? and “What do parents need to know?”

After school secretary Socorro Peña surveyed parents about their computer resources and internet connections, the team created a list of families who needed technology assistance. Working with the Value Schools Technology Systems Director José Esquivel, the school obtained and delivered Chromebooks, notified families about free or discounted internet service offers, and provided hotspot connections for those who had no other access. 

Downtown Value educator Ana Villanueva
Downtown Value educator Ana Villanueva

Having equipment is one thing, but using it effectively is another. Not surprisingly, younger children in the K-5 grades needed the most help, along with their parents. Ms. Patterson held weekend Facebook Live sessions to talk with parents about what they needed to learn, such as how to use Google Classroom; how to communicate with teachers; and how to help their children to participate and to submit their work. For many of them, this was all new, requiring step-by-step instructions with backup resources to answer their questions. 

Ms. Patterson found the ideal partner in fifth-grade teacher and Director of School Operations Zachary Peterson. Enlisting administrative assistant Nancy Yucute for Spanish-language translation, Mr. Peterson developed instructional resources to help parents log in and to upload and download documents, and worked with families to resolve computer problems. Using an intricate tracking system for tech request tickets, he has been able to identify common problems and issues that need particular attention so our students can keep learning.

The quick pivot to distance learning was a challenge, but Downtown Value parents didn’t hesitate. According to Ms. Patterson: “Parents have been really shining through all these moments. They show up. Some are shy but that’s ok. What’s important is that they’re present.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Villanueva recognized that many teachers also needed training and support. Most had never taught remote classes or interacted with students electronically, and were not prepared to be distance educators at first. Once again, Mr. Peterson jumped in to train and troubleshoot. Already skilled at using tools such as Google Classroom, Mr. Peterson followed the Value Schools tradition of Teachers Teaching Teachers. He surveyed the teachers about what they needed and arranged training sessions for them. During the transition, Ms. Villanueva noted, Mr. Peterson “met with teachers every week, just trying to make their lives easier.” The whole team greatly appreciated his willingness to go the extra mile to make sure the teaching and learning never stopped.