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Watch: Pasadena USD Is Empowering Their Students Like Never Before

"So I think the biggest distinction coming into the fall is we have a lot more preparedness. We now know what's better for students in online environments, and we do have clearer guidelines for teachers—Oh, should I wait for her to come back?"

"No, you're good."

"Ok, I'll continue. So in any case we know that there's going to be unfinished learning from the spring, so we’ve modified our curriculum in a way that students who have those gaps can actually accelerate their rate of learning, as opposed to having teachers slow things down and give them less content. It’s the idea of accelerated learning, as opposed to decelerated learning—Oh, she's back! [Laughs] Hi again."

"Sorry, my internet keeps cutting out!"

"That is you and the whole world! [Laughs] But see, a moment like this, that’s just a really good concrete example of another distinction for this fall, which is realizing that the stability of the building is not something that we have as a guarantee anymore.”

[READ: Paper Will be a Key Part of Pasadena USD’s Back-to-School]

The distinctions for this fall

When our team spoke to Helen Hill, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development at Pasadena USD, about reopening their schools, we began by asking her to outline how this semester will be different from last spring.

The PUSD leadership team has spent the summer reimagining how to make pandemic schooling a more livable reality for its students, teachers, and families. She described how they would be approaching the fall with a modified curriculum for academic recovery, clearer guidelines for teachers, and supplemental supports such as Paper's Educational Support System (ESS) and mental health counseling.

Alongside these preparations will be an acknowledgment of the continued need for flexibility, given that remote learning is an imperfect solution, and its many issues will undoubtedly persist into the new school year. Our own Zoom interview call of just four people leading to connectivity hiccups was emblematic of just that.

"And so even when a student wants, with all of their best intentions, to be live with their teacher, they can't guarantee that they have their access point working, they can't guarantee that Mom and Dad aren't using up all the bandwidth for their own meetings, and so we know that we're walking into a situation where we actually do need to account for more, and so while we have embedded more lives synchronous time, we're also requiring that asynchronous backups are available for all students," she explained.

Helen also recognized that any approach targeted towards remediating students must be trauma-informed. "You begin with the socioemotional, or none of that other academic piece gets taken care of or attended to."

When we interviewed Helen, PUSD had only weeks ago decided to implement Paper into their reopening plans. What initially began with Paper providing tutoring support for 550 students in an after-school program is now a district-wide partnership for all 8000 middle school and high school students.

Watch Helen Hill explain what drew Pasadena USD to Paper:



Or read a short transcript below.

What drew you to Paper, for your back to school plans, in this climate?

I would say it's definitely more urgent in this climate, but we were drawn to Paper back in the days of Gradeslam—I think one of my team members Harmony reached out over a year ago. For context, Pasadena is a very interesting city in that if you Google Pasadena Unified, you'll see that we have a really odd history with desegregation. Here, there's an understanding that the potential of a lot of the students in our city are very much marginalized by the perceptions that people in our community have about them.

So we end up having this context in Pasadena that is very much about who can, and who can't. And then it leads to almost this "pity" of certain kids and what they don't have, and what we must fill and give to them. With that said, what I always look for, is not partners who say they can "provide all these services to these students, to all these poor kids." It's partners that have some actionable ability to redistribute the power that we have somehow taken out of this system and hoarded for ourselves.

Harmony and I actually taught at the same school when we were teachers ... we had this shared understanding because of the community in which we worked. So she called me when she had discovered [Paper], and she said, "Oh my gosh, they're actually saying that every child should have access, they're actually saying that it's not just something that we can hoard for the families who can." ... So we started exploring it from an equity lens, and not just a service lens. And I think that's why we just had such a deep desire to get [Paper] into our schools.

At the time, we couldn't convince others based on the finances, but one thing that I'll always thank the pandemic for is for revealing the inequities in such stark transparency, and for really creating urgency in people's own narrative around: "What we're doing is not fair, and what we're doing is not just." So I think that it was timely, and I will capitalize on that all I want.

And so when we brought [Paper to them again and said] this would be a time like no other, where you can talk about individualized attention, where we can help stretch the bandwidth of our teachers to reach their 150+ students. This isn't about "We feel sorry for certain children," or "We don't think certain children can do this or that, and need help"; it's that every child has a learning progression, and we need to be able to meet them where they are.

And if I don't have the time because of the complexity of my content and the number of kids I have on my roster, then I want somebody else who is well-trained to [help them], at the time that they need it. So that's really what we were drawn to, with Paper.

Looking forward

With the new semester around the corner, there's still a lot to be done, and even what's already done is subject to change. A large moving piece for the district is currently a comprehensive PD plan, "We're also working on a 40-page distance learning handbook that includes logistical, pedagogical, and practical guidance and resources for teachers in the new year."

As Helen puts it, at PUSD, "everything is building from the ground up at this point," but we rest assured that this is in good hands.


Thinking of bringing Paper to your schools?