Proactive leadership and outreach address remote learning issues during pandemic

In 2018, the UCI School of Education – in partnership with local K-12 schools and with the support of private donors – established the Orange County Educational Advancement Network. When the pandemic forced the sudden pivot to remote learning, OCEAN collaborated with researchers, teachers and families in low-income communities of color to tackle threats to educational opportunities, ranging from kids’ mental and socioemotional health to technical challenges and achievement gaps.

OCEAN is a network of research-practice partnerships between the School of Education and K-12 schools. At each site, a UCI faculty member and doctoral student work with school leadership to identify the institution’s greatest needs and goals and then conduct research that will have a positive impact on the school, in the district or across the county. The “Reimagining Educational Equity and Opportunity During the COVID-19 Pandemic” project, supported by a grant from UCI’s Office of Inclusive Excellence, is an example of a countywide approach.

The REEO team, led by June Ahn, associate professor of education and director of OCEAN, surveyed 400 elementary school teachers from two local districts and conducted 25 interviews with district leaders, teachers and parents to document the challenges they faced in the transition to the virtual classroom. Workgroups of School of Education faculty members and graduate students were formed to develop targeted solutions to support mental health, lower technological barriers and overcome learning loss. UCI educators and researchers determined how to best address student issues, with a focus on equity and serving those most in need. Our goal is to help the community in meaningful ways, Ahn says.

“UCI School of Education faculty and graduate students involved in the REEO project reached out to the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. We collaborated with local schools throughout the OCEAN network to provide targeted mental health, technology and learning support." - June Ahn, director of the Orange County Educational Advancement Network

A weekly needs assessment was created so that school staff were informed and could intervene when students or families were facing mental health challenges related to social distancing or isolation.

A webinar was developed to overcome technological barriers facing Spanish-speaking families and to increase student attendance and engagement. Modules on fundamental training, resources in basic computing, internet use, school-based platforms and strategies for supporting remote instruction are accessible on the Anaheim Union High School District, Compton Unified School District and Santa Ana Unified School District websites.

More than 125 School of Education undergraduates have been connected with families in the OCEAN partner school communities to lead virtual tutoring for students in need. These “learning pods” provide additional instructional support for students in one-on-one, small-group or whole-class sessions.

OCEAN was funded by generous contributions from our philanthropic community. Leadership gifts of more than $1.1 million provided by private donors Sandi Jackson, Seema and Pawan Seth, Janice and Ted Smith, the Podlich family and the Opus Foundation supported UCI School of Education doctoral students working at the partner school sites. In addition, several million dollars of grant funding received from private foundations, including the Spencer Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, National Science Foundation and NewSchools Venture Fund, have expanded OCEAN research collaborations to enhance learning experiences and educational outcomes in Orange County public schools.