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Mott Haven Academy School. Bronx. Motto sign

In the South Bronx, a School Mobilizes to Serve Students in Need

March 31, 2020
Jessica Nauiokas
Mott Haven Academy has taken extraordinary steps to educate students during the COVID-19 crisis

In the 12 years since Mott Haven Academy opened its doors in the South Bronx, our school has been guided by a spirit of deep empathy and defined by the never-give-up attitude of our staff and students.

That caring and resilience have been especially evident in the weeks since we closed on March 13.

With the COVID-19 outbreak, we were confronted with a novel challenge: How to preserve our community and protect learning in a city scrambling to respond to an unprecedented public health emergency.

We faced some unique hurdles.

Mott Haven is a K-8 public charter school serving kids in one of the poorest Congressional districts in the nation.

Mott Haven Academy Charter School. Jessica Nauiokas
Head of School & Founder
Jessica Nauiokas, head of school at Mott Haven Academy, rallied with her staff to support student needs when the COVID-19 pandemic forced closure of the public charter school on March 13.

Our students are among society’s most vulnerable – two-thirds of our population are in foster care or receive services through the city’s child welfare system.

They survive homelessness, poverty, abuse, food insecurity and other forms of trauma. Many live in homes or shelters without Internet or access to computers.

Switching from in-school learning to remote instruction was never going to be easy. But our teachers, social workers, therapists and administrative staff have mobilized in a way that has been nothing short of remarkable.

Mott Haven Academy. The Bronx. Student Circle

A week before the school closed, we took bold steps to offer our scholars meaningful learning opportunities.

First, our teachers prepared a paper packet for students that included two weeks of work. Then, we distributed hundreds of Chromebooks for families who do not have computers or tablets to access educational portals and units.

To help address the lack of Internet access, we are providing 40 families with mobile hotspots so they can remain connected to the school.

Every student has a staff member they can reach out to by phone, email, or text message. We make sure every single child has a point of contact every day.

We are using easy access points like Google Classroom and Facebook to hold morning circle rituals to set daily expectations, assign work that can be completed with basic household items and hold group sessions to review assignments and projects.

Mott Haven Academy Charter School. Students and Laptops
Mott Haven Academy staff scrambled to provide hundreds of Chromebooks to students so they could access online learning tools when the school closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

We’re using Google Forms to develop quizzes for our middle schoolers. And our pre-K students can visit our pre-K Instagram account and watch their teacher read a book every day.

Our staff is working hard to address other critical needs.

Every day during the first week of this crisis, we served more than 280 hot, chef-prepared meals packed in to-go containers and made available through a hotline service using sanitary distribution practices.

We are calling families daily to help them secure long-term food stability, assess their health and identify critical childcare needs.

Mott Haven Academy. Students Studying

Because the New York health system right now is overrun, our pediatric nurse practitioner has been conducting tele-health assessments to address health needs and provide triage for families.

School is closed, but our kids still need counseling. So we developed a family support system led by social workers and counselors to respond to individual crisis needs, distributed tools to address isolation and offered tele-therapy.

Our social workers are giving their time and heart. They are treating the students as if they are their own children.

Our teachers have taken extraordinary steps to ensure that children do not stall their academic achievement.

What we are doing is working. We are seeing high attendance rates and touchpoints with staff.

School is the most stable place for our students and we would love to have them with us in person.

For now, we can’t. But our teachers have taken extraordinary steps to ensure that children do not stall their academic achievement, that they continue to grow socially and emotionally and emerge from this crisis with greater resilience.

I have never been prouder. In the midst of a pandemic, our staff has responded with deep empathy and a commitment to make sure our kids don't fall behind.

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