School closures and distance learning continue to have a drastic impact on students, primarily students of color in low-income neighborhoods, reflective of the growing educational inequities that have accelerated since the pandemic. 

The crisis is hurting budgets at community organizations even as the need for their services increases dramatically. To bolster their financial stability, in July we made core support grants to 29 education partners.

But we need more than stability to address the deep fissures exposed by the coronavirus. We need change. 

Rather than maintaining ineffective models that deepen racial and economic inequities, we have an opportunity to transform our education system. Part of the Pandemic Relief Funding is going towards a new TransformED Program, investing in a dozen local organizations with a track record of student-centered services and advocacy, taking steps to reimagine our system in an equitable way.

TransformED grantees will help scale up innovative practices that address inequities in Los Angeles’s highest need communities. Initiatives receiving grant funding: 

  • address the digital divide
  • increase capacity building for educators
  • establish social-emotional support for families
  • strengthen college readiness
  • fortify school stakeholder engagement efforts. 

United Way will evaluate efforts in hopes of expanding promising programs systemwide.

A number of the grantees are developing holistic methods to form connections with students despite the challenges of distance learning.

Center for Powerful Public Schools
One of our TransformED grantees is the Center for Powerful Public Schools, which supports educators, schools, and districts to improve learning with a focus on historically underserved communities. The Center assists schools all over the world, but the heart of its work is in Los Angeles, where it is a founding member of the Communities for Los Angeles Student Success, (CLASS) Coalition we facilitate. 

The Center’s TransformED work will focus on distance learning training for teachers and administrators. “Students and teachers need support to connect and build relationships in order to thrive,” said Executive Director Alicia Montgomery. “This grant allows us to provide training to teachers and school administrators to increase the quality of strategies used to support students through social, emotional, and of course academic distance learning. We will continue to create platforms to share peer-to-peer best practices between educators, allowing them to grow in this unprecedented way of learning.”

COVID changes and observations
After the pandemic hit, the Center drastically changed their every day, in-person efforts. They put their annual summer bridge program for students online. They established remote educator training programs, as well as developing web-based resources for parents and teachers and continue to become more flexible in their support for teachers. 

Alicia Montgomery draws on her 11 years of teaching experience to inform her current role. “Seeing my kids in class filled my cup every day, having an impact daily filled my cup,” she said. “I understand the social and emotional needs of teachers. Many teachers are also parents, navigating the education of their own kids at home.”

The relationship with teachers is critical to student learning and growth. The Center offers different strategies to connect with students. “We need to change how we engage students, especially students whose cultures rely on engagement and relationships,” she remarked.

The Center creates a platform for teacher education as well as peer engagement and sharing of best practices. “One teacher spoke about how they greet each student by name as they join the classroom chat each day.”

Advice for teachers and administrators in the new school year
Ms. Montgomery asks teachers as they start the new year, “give yourself grace. Be patient with yourself, your family, your students. And just give yourself grace.”

She's seen teachers and leaders rise to this challenge. She stated emphatically, “don't limit yourself in what education can be post COVID-19. Now is the moment to think transformatively about education and how to serve students. The things we thought we couldn't do without are no longer sacred. If we think creatively and transformatively we can come out with an education system that is better, stronger, more equitable, and engages parents in a way that we never have before.”

United Way of Greater Los Angeles is proud to support the efforts of the Center and our TransformED grantees. We recognize this unprecedented opportunity for change within our education system and understand that ensuring equity for our vulnerable students is the only way forward.