By Mary Westervelt, director of marketing & communications
“We’ve got to help.”
Those four words captured how the whole ParentPowered team felt as we gathered virtually for our March 17 team meeting. We had been watching school after school close across the country in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The parents among us were feeling the impact directly – from the sudden closures of our daycare providers to the weight of responsibility for teaching our school-age kids to packing up dorm rooms with teary eyed college students.
Passionate about helping families support healthy childhood development, every member of our team asked the same question: how are we going to help?
In response to the unprecedented and sudden nation-wide school closures in the spring of 2020, our executive team and board quickly came back with the response we all wanted. We were going to make Ready4K Core free through the end of the 2019-20 school year to every early childhood education organization, such as schools, childcare providers, Head Starts, United Ways, First 5s, and Smart Starts.
Like every other organization across the world, we shelved our carefully outlined work plans for the next 2 months. We had a new call-to-action: reach every educator we could, get them onboarded, and enroll their families as fast as possible. Oh, and update thousands of parenting messages to be COVID-19 sensitive.
Making the curriculum COVID-19 sensitive
While the knowledge of COVID-19 was still unfolding, we already knew that many of our messages contained references to activities that no longer would feel safe for families. Because our success relies on families finding our messages useful and usable, we had to act quickly. Our incredible content team raced against the clock with three goals:
- Revise any messages that were impractical in a COVID-19 world or in violation of new social distancing norms
- Add additional messages focused on COVID-19 topics like hygiene, coping with pandemic anxiety, and social connection in a virtual world
- Enhance the program with additional social-emotional support for all age levels, including parents and caregivers
As families struggled with the pressure to step into an educational role, the team also worked to ensure families would feel emotionally supported and get the “you’ve got this!” feeling we’re always going for.
The response was humbling, with over 400 organizations reaching out to us on behalf of hundreds of thousands of children. To date we’ve sent approximately 6.5 million COVID-19 adjusted messages to families.
In addition to the messages we were sending, families were also receiving those our partners were sending themselves. Our Partner Success team went into overdrive to ensure that both new and existing partners had full access to the Custom Messaging feature of our dashboard. We removed any messaging limits and were excited to see partners start reaching out directly with their own local updates and information. Messages included:
- Surveying families about immediate needs
- Sharing local coronavirus testing news
- Reminding families to fill out the US Census, and
- Providing details on food access options for students and families.
Most importantly, we heard from families who found the support invaluable.
Your suggestion that the parent point out the characters that are kind, calm and helpful has helped IMMENSELY. My child can equate those characteristics with the first responders that have helped people during COVID-19.Parent of an Ohio 3-year-old
As the 2019-20 school year closes, we will continue to look for ways to extend our support to educational program providers and their families. Our first effort to date has been to create a needs-based grant program for partners who signed on during the spring school closures. Again, we were blown away by the significant response. We’re so honored by the number of organizations that came to us during the closures and are becoming new members of the Ready4K community.
Of course, we are acutely aware of the uncertainty surrounding the opening of the 2020-21 school year and will continue to search for opportunities to equitably expand Ready4K access to as many impacted families as possible.