San Antonio Charter Moms serves as an online gathering place for parents to share information on how to meet the educational needs of their children. When COVID-19 hit, founder and mother of two Inga Cotton understood the shifting—and at times overwhelming—burden on parents. Her response? Mobilize her 6,500-strong group to help.
Tell me about San Antonio Charter Moms. How did you get started?
It started as a passion project in 2012. My son was in preschool and had recently received an autism diagnosis. It was harder than expected to find a school that was the right fit for his needs. At the same time, the charter school landscape in San Antonio was growing. But the sector was still small. Not enough parents knew these options existed, let alone how to apply.
A friend was working to bring more high-performing charters to the city and needed help communicating these new options to parents. What started as a small blog quickly grew into a non-profit organization, website and Facebook group with over 6,400 members—filled with information, events and resources for families.
How has your work shifted in light of this crisis?
Pretty quickly following our March school break we understood that change was coming. Our mission—particularly at this time of year—has always been preparing parents for their choices in the fall—blog posts, school fairs and other gatherings—all geared toward helping parents understand their different school choices. As this crisis unfolded, we did a poll in our Facebook group. The vast majority weren’t thinking about enrollment. They were thinking about how to get through the next day, the next week.
So we pivoted to letting members know about school closures, social distancing and how to keep kids learning and thriving at home. We are compiling every resource we can find, from virtual story times and museum tours to online classes, and I’m also hosting regular Facebook Live events where folks can connect.
What are some creative ways parents are supporting their kids and each other?
We are finding that our parents need a place online where they can feel safe, be vulnerable and express their feelings. There is a huge mental shift underway, and it’s one I personally understand. When we were waiting to hear on schools for my son, I homeschooled for a year. I’ve stood on that precipice and asked, ‘Am I messing this up? How to do I keep my kid on task?’
We are trying to give folks permission to do what’s right for their family, to say, ‘Listen, your school day doesn’t have to look like a classroom school day. If someone has a meltdown and needs to take a step back, it’s okay to respond to what your family needs.’
When it comes to educating our children from home, we also know that the digital divide is a major consideration. Kids can’t learn if they don’t have the right devices or access to the internet. We’ve enlisted our group to dig around their homes, find unused devices, wipe the hard drives and pass them on to neighbors in need.
How has the school your children attend been handling the crisis?
Many of the high-quality public charter schools in San Antonio have a strong sense of mission and purpose—what they offer that makes them different. Charter families choose to be at their school. The teachers, families and students are all invested in its success.
My kids attend Great Hearts Monte Vista, a classical education school which is kind of low-tech at its core. I was nervous how this would translate to distance learning, but the educators and students have gotten up to speed really quickly. It’s pretty cool to watch a Socratic Seminar over Zoom! Even though the lessons are online, they still have a richness and personality that really comes from our school’s sense of mission.
How is your organization managing the potential longer-term impacts of COVID-19?
We keep a calendar in the office. Every month I have to squirt the cleaner and wipe away a month’s worth of events for families. Our organization, just like the families we serve, feels a sense of loss. Everyone wants to plan for the future, but that future is uncertain.
One of our underlying principles has always been to trust parents. Whether that’s choosing between charter, private or traditional schools—or if it’s simply deciding that your family needs a pajama day or to skip the veggies at dinner. As an organization, one of the most important things we can do now is reinforce kindness and understanding.
San Antonio Charter Moms is a Walton Family Foundation grantee.