Among the unsung heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic are the staffers at the Kane County Regional Office of Education who oversee programs that help students in need — young people dealing with truancy, homelessness and a broader range of academic, behavioral, and social/emotional interventions.
Such services are vital, often unknown to the general public and fraught with challenges for the ROE’s outreach staff, but the challenges are magnified many times in the wake of a pandemic and stay-at-home order.
“When the school buildings closed, it did not mean that our districts were shut down,” said Kane County Regional Superintendent Pat Dal Santo. “Our students were expected to attend school via remote learning on a regular basis. This was a new challenge for our youth outreach staff at the Kane County Regional Office of Education.”
The ROE has seven youth outreach staff members who work to support students throughout Kane County. Five youth outreach staff are dedicated to truancy services, one is a coordinator of alternative programs, and one is a liaison who supports McKinney-Vento / homeless unaccompanied youth.
During the pandemic, the youth outreach staff is working remotely to make personal contacts with students and school administrators regarding their caseload. Through phone calls, text messages, and emails, the youth outreach truancy staff have made nearly 1,100 contacts with families in Kane County since the shelter-in-place began.
The staff members’ job is to ensure students have the resources they need to be successful, that students are participating in remote learning, and completing assignments. The overarching goal is to make sure that there were no barriers to student success.
During the past two months and more, outreach staff members have been troubleshooting all kinds of problems, including finding and maintaining reliable Internet access and helping students interact exclusively in an online educational environment.
The youth outreach team is meeting regularly to go over any changes and current happenings from Illinois State Board of Education regarding remote learning and how their programs are being affected. The meetings allow for collaboration and to share ways to best serve difficult situations that students are experiencing.
One of the primary tasks is making sure that the students have basic needs such as food and shelter.
The youth outreach staff members are knowledgeable of the meal programs offered by the schools and in the community and share that information with the families.
“With the loss of income, some of our students are struggling with maintaining a stable home in which to live because of affordable housing issues,” Dal Santo said. “We are promoting the usage of 2-1-1 to our caseload students and families during this difficult time as we are concerned about the mental and physical safety of all our students.”
SOURCE: Kane County Regional Office of Education news release