Now What? — A six-part series focused on education fixes as we head back to school in person.
While a school is built with classrooms and blackboards, textbooks and desks, what it is built on are relationships. When the pandemic hit, those relationships were one of the biggest losses during remote learning and finding ways to stay connected proved to be one of the biggest challenges.
But in the Metro Nashville Public School district, teachers and administrators found a new way to stay in touch with their students and families in ways that continued and will continue long after the pandemic is over.
In the fall of 2020, with the help of the Education Redesign Lab's success plans framework, the district rolled out the ambitious new Navigators program. Designed to prevent students and families from slipping out of touch, the program was a way to connect with every student, through phone calls, and then help students and their families with what they needed: social-emotional support, but also access to tangible services like technology, food, and mental health resources.
It was a huge undertaking, with the district deploying tens of thousands of laptops and internet hot spots, and everyone from teachers to cafeteria staff and administrative assistants acting as “navigators” and providing 360,000 check-ins for 60,000 students during the course of the 2020–21 school year. Once schools went back in-person, the program didn’t disappear.
“Everyone working in a school got involved to work with kids, and we started to hear teachers and staff say that the feeling of connection and knowing you were making a difference was huge,” says Keri Randolph, who oversees the program in her role as executive officer for federal, state, and philanthropic investments for Metro Nashville Public Schools. “Navigator is here to stay, not just for the pandemic.”
School leaders around the country hoped the pandemic would be a time to truly reimagine education, but as the return to normalcy seems to also be a return to the old ways of school, Randolph says she is proud of the “positive disruption” the Navigator program has made in her district.
Here are some of the ways the Navigator program will continue to grow and impact students this new school year.