Three public elementary schools in Oakland are being honored by the state for implementing an innovative practice during the 2021-22 school year when California required schools to offer distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The schools, Cleveland Elementary, Lincoln Elementary and Peralta Elementary, are receiving the 2022 Pivotal Practice Awards, which is in place of the California Distinguished Schools Program.

The Oakland Unified School District is also being recognized. In all, 45 elementary, middle and high schools from Bay Area counties were honored. A complete list of awardees is available online.

“I’m incredibly proud of these schools and districts for their creativity, dedication, and innovation in the face of adversity,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. “These schools led incredible efforts to engage students, distribute technology, provide meals, and support the social and emotional well-being of students during an incredibly difficult time for schools and families.”

Cleveland Elementary

At Cleveland Elementary, the pivotal practice implemented during distance learning was designed to support the social and emotional well-being of students, according to school officials Friday. Based on the shared school-wide values of inclusiveness and responsibility, school staff knew to create identity-safe spaces for students to build the relationships that help them thrive. They provided enrichment opportunities for every student every afternoon to opt in as a grade level as well as providing school wide lunch activities.

Tutoring and tech support were available in the late afternoons in partnership with the after-school program providers. This also provided an opportunity for students to check in with adults in small groups and one on one, and get support with the various issues they were experiencing over the course of the pandemic. The school even started a parent support group led by the principal, school psychologist, and therapist interns to provide mini-lessons on parenting and be a safe place for parents to discuss their stresses and needs for support.

“The implementation of the pivotal practice drove home the importance of students having multiple opportunities to connect with each other and other adults, and the importance of our enrichment opportunities, said Peter Van Tassel, Cleveland principal. “While we no longer provide any distance learning at our site, we have used this learning to share the importance of our enrichments as a social/emotional support for students as we write our school plan and make funding decisions.”

Lincoln Elementary

At Lincoln Elementary, parent and community engagement work led online by Lincoln’s community relations assistant and principal addressed four critical areas: student engagement, distribution of technology, nutrition services and social emotional well-being of students.

According to the school district, teachers and administrators at Lincoln checked in regularly on student and parent well-being, and mental health services provided by Lincoln’s school psychologist and partner mental health workers were also provided. Parent teacher conferences happened every trimester. Lincoln’s literacy coach collaborated with EBAYC — the after school program provider — to provide literacy and reading intervention groups throughout distance learning.

“During distance learning and beyond, the Lincoln community has grown stronger together through the night-time virtual meetings intended to gather, educate, connect, and celebrate parents and students,” said principal Mukta Sambrani. “The night-time Zoom gatherings have come to be the gift of the pandemic at Lincoln Elementary.”

Peralta Elementary

And, at Peralta Elementary, the Integrated Arts Program had a powerful impact on students, staff and families. School district official said Peralta has robust art instruction in all of its classrooms incorporating a variety of art forms including poetry, theater, visual, and music. With integrated arts an essential part of the vision, mission, and school identity, the school prioritized continuing visual and performing arts (VAPA) programming in distance learning.

“Throughout the year, four music teachers provided vocal and instrumental music lessons every week,” said principal Shirley Clem. “Students sang, played instruments, listened, and learned about different kinds of music. At Monday morning virtual assemblies, music teachers performed for birthdays, engaged us in singing, and provided inspiration. Our kids were amazing at the virtual promotion as they performed instrumental music and songs.”

The school district was honored for its efforts to ensure students and families had nutritious food during the pandemic. The majority of OUSD families struggled to put food on their tables before March 2020 when the pandemic shut down in-person classes, and those issues multiplied after the pandemic began.