Education looked a lot different for everyone in 2020, and our Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Initiative partners were no exception. When the world rapidly closed down due to COVID-19, online became the only way classrooms and programs could operate. Through emergency funding provided by the Bainum Family Foundation, we helped our partners adapt and continue to deliver quality instruction and other services in their new distanced environments.

Expanding Services to Meet New Needs

The Lourie Center for Children’s Social & Emotional Wellness in Rockville, Maryland, focuses on improving the social and emotional health of young children and their families through prevention, early intervention, education, research and training. But when the pandemic hit, Executive Director Jimmy Venza, PhD, says his team knew they needed to expand services to meet their community’s growing and more complex needs.

“We have seen the significant inequity for our infants, young children and families who live below the poverty level with regard to unemployment, health, food insecurity and access to technology,” says Dr. Venza.

To address the inequities and transition their comprehensive services online, the Lourie Center team provided tablets for children under age 3 and Chromebooks for children ages 3 through 5. Additionally, since the beginning of the pandemic, the Head Start and Therapeutic Nursery Program teams have conducted contactless “home visits” to drop off learning and therapeutic activities/materials, safely connect with families in person, and see how everyone was doing. Because of these visits, the Lourie Center identified another way to help — grocery shopping and delivering food to families in quarantine due to someone in their house testing positive for COVID-19.

“The Bainum Family Foundation’s rapid response to our call for help ensured the continuity of education and mental health care for some of our most vulnerable families,” says Dr. Venza. “This emergency funding meant that young children and their parents had access to their teachers and therapists — those central relationships that serve as a lighthouse in the storm.”

The Lourie Center for Children’s Social & Emotional Wellness (top photo and above left) expanded services to meet the needs of families and staff while the ACE Academy Leadership Coaching Program (above right) transitioned online to continue serving school leaders.

Other Program Highlights

Our school partners — Baltimore Junior Academy, Bronx Manhattan Seventh-day Adventist School and Creation Village Preparatory School — all transitioned to online learning with support from the Foundation. We provided funding to help ensure that students had access to Wi-Fi, laptops and tablets, and we also provided technical assistance to teachers and administrators for grade-level planning and assessment. One large breakthrough was discovering the tool Flipgrid, which provided a way for teachers to virtually assess students as young as preschoolers. With Flipgrid, students could record and share video responses to teachers and classmates, which helped teachers monitor student learning and support differentiation and equity practices.

Our ACE (Advancing Christian Education) Academy Leadership Coaching Program — an intensive, two-year program that trains and certifies experienced school principals to become leadership coaches within the Columbia Union Conference — also went exclusively online. Despite initial concerns that participants wouldn’t be as engaged or able to learn as effectively, they were eager and active. Online conversations proved to be robust, particularly around equity, which is one of the cornerstones of the program. All ACE participants work together to examine their personal mindsets and develop skills to identify and address inequitable practices in their schools so that each student can thrive, regardless of race or circumstance.

“I’ve seen inequities in my school that I did not realize were happening until now, and I’m reassessing my leadership,” says H. Clifford Reynolds III, a coach participant and Principal of Pine Forge Academy in Pine Forge, Pennsylvania. “Training Adventist leaders is direly important right now, and I wholeheartedly believe that every educator needs this program so we can understand where we need to be as a system and then move in that direction together.”

Additionally, at the onset of the pandemic, our SDA team created and continues to moderate a Facebook group for Adventist educators to connect, share resources, ask questions and learn from one another in order to navigate the uncharted territory of education during COVID-19.