Though the School District of Philadelphia has made inroads in recent weeks to locate students after the end of in-person instruction, at least 500 of them have yet to log in to school-issued Chromebooks or otherwise check in with their teachers or principals, the district’s chief said Thursday.
Superintendent William Hite said the number of students that are "unaccounted" is likely higher than 500 and that district staff have been working to locate them with the help of the city’s Department of Human Services.
Though the number of unaccounted-for students is less than 1% of the district’s 130,000 total enrollment, “it’s still too many for me,” Hite said.
To find those students, staff members from individual schools have been calling numbers on file and even visited their listed home addresses at times. However, locating that small subset of students has presented a challenge, since some families have relocated since the outset of the coronavirus outbreak, the superintendent said.
Thursday marked the fourth day since of the grading of remote schoolwork began. Some schools have had “spotty” participation, a consequence of things like bad internet connections or, in some cases, parents not feeling comfortable with their children being in front of a webcam, Hite said.
To that end, the district is exploring alternatives including making printed schoolwork packets more widely available. Some teachers are counting attendance not by student online log-ins but by phone calls or text messages, he added.
Starting Monday, both students and their families will also have access to a new hotline aimed at providing mental health services. The “Philadelphia HopeLine” is a result of a partnership between the School District of Philadelphia and the Uplift Center for Grieving Children.
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“We know that there is a need for mental health and emotional support in this time when kids are isolated, families are isolated,” said Uplit Center Director of School and Community Services, Meghan Szafran. “There’s a lot of worry, anxiety and a lot of grief over things that are lost, whether it’s resources, safety, security, routine or the death of a loved one, which is still happening.”
Students or family members in crisis will be able to call 1-833-PHL-HOPE (1-833-745-4673) Mondays through Fridays from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. and be connected for free to clinicians with expertise in grief and trauma. People will also have the option to text or video chat with clinicians if they so wish.
“This Philly HopeLine will be able to provide the emotional support for kids and families. They’ll be able to reach out if they’re feeling lonely, if they’re feeling anxious. If they’re just not sure where to turn, we can connect them to other resources as well,” Szafran said.