The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that living through a historical moment as opposed to just studying it are two radically different experiences. This past May, WCA released not one but two online surveys to assess how Westchester children and families are doing in these difficult, unsettling days from an educational and social-emotional standpoint. The Superintendents Survey received responses from 28 school districts. The reaction to the Parents Survey, which was released in English and Spanish, was overwhelming with a total of 969 responses submitted by the time the survey closed.
Together these two surveys revealed that although school administrators are doing their best to address the issues that have arisen due to the sudden switch to remote learning, there are challenges that still need to be addressed. We are also very aware that releasing the parent survey online, for efficiency and safety reasons, most likely reduced participation from families who do not have internet access at all. This is something that we must consider if and when we conduct future surveys.
Several things became quite clear as we dove into the data:
- There is a technological divide between students in City districts vs. Non-City Districts. Families in City Districts were almost 3 times as likely to request a computer for their families (31%) as opposed to families in non-city districts (11%). Preliminary evidence from both the Superintendents and the Parents Surveys indicate that families with elementary school students were more likely to make a request for a computer.
- Families in the City districts waited longer to get devices. Families in City districts were more likely to wait for a requested computer for their child as compared to families from non-City districts. Forty-three percent (43%) of respondents from City School Districts who requested machines were either still waiting for computers at the time of completing the survey or had to wait three weeks or more. Only 10% of those respondents from non-city districts fell into that category.
- Certain districts responded more than others. Families from the Rye School District made up nearly a third of the answers (n=314) with Mamaroneck following at 150 responses, and New Rochelle with 106 responses. Although New Rochelle families only represented 10% of all respondents, they represented nearly half (43%) of families that came from what are considered the Westchester “city districts,” namely New Rochelle, Mount Vernon, Peekskill, White Plains, and Yonkers.
- Parents spent more time teaching at home. The transition from school-based learning to remote learning demanded more time from adults overall, but it was especially burdensome for adults with special needs children. Adults are spending on average 1.7 hours more on their children’s schoolwork before Shelter-In-Place took effect (from 1.3 hours/day to 3.0 hours/ day). Adults with special needs children report that they are spending on average 2 hours more helping their children. (From 1.1 hours daily to 3.3 hours daily)
- Parents of students with special needs and in City districts are particularly feeling heavier burdens. Families with special needs students are more likely to indicate that their children are “Less than OK” 39% of households with Special Needs students reported that their children were less than OK, which was sixteen percentage points more than households without special needs students (23%). Parents from in City districts were also more likely to say their children were “Less than OK” (38%) compared to their non-city counterparts (29%).
- School districts report a need for additional mental health supports for families. In the superintendent survey, school districts were asked what else families needed at this time. Eight (8) school districts elected to respond to this optional question in the open-ended comments and it is telling that four of those responses focused on the need to provide mental health services for the parents and the children.
- Parents want more live instruction. Although this was not a specific question in the survey, in the comments, parents often expressed the desire to improve and increase LIVE student/teacher interactions. These comments are particularly interesting because on average in the Superintendents Survey school districts reported that less than half of their remote instruction (40%) was being offered live.
This is only the beginning of our analysis of data from the Parents and Superintendents Surveys. The open-ended comments sections need a deeper dive and we will share more results through our Children by the Numbers blog through qualitative analysis. The survey makes clear that our ability to listen to and amplify the voices of Westchester’s families matter more than ever.
WCA would like to thank key partners and organizations who helped us to develop and distribute this survey including Family Ties of Westchester, Nonprofit Westchester, the Ossining School District, the office of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the office of State Senator Shelley Mayer, Westchester Community Foundation, the Westchester County Youth Bureau, Westchester Institute for Human Development, and the Westchester Putnam School Boards Association.
Written by Limarie Cabrera @Limarie_WCA
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Thank you for doing this very important survey. The data also can be interpreted across racial lines because we know the impact of hyper-segregation in housing creates predictable race group outcomes. Let’s hope that our county government can assist us in obtaining equity in education and make headway to ensure that all children in westchester are prepared for learning with internet access and other needed family support services. Covid-19 appears to be with us for a while.
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