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Stories of Impact

Teach For America Virtual Town Hall

An instructional year starts in the year 2020, while we are in the throws of a global pandemic, unlike anything in recent history. Our Chattanooga Corps Members are not only stepping up to the challenge in the classroom, but they are leaning into their leadership as advocates for their students, their schools, and their communities.

The Corps Members asked to meet with leaders in the district so that they had the opportunity to share their experiences, ask the hard questions, and gain clarity on the decision making process regarding COVID-19 Phase Tracking decisions, implications for the Midtown Learning Community, and the health and safety of teachers and students. A Town Hall was held virtually on December 1st with county leaders Dr. Stewart, Midtown Learning Community Executive Director; Dr. Vance, Missionary Ridge Learning Community Executive Director; Jennifer Bronson, COVID-19 Response Coordinator for Hamilton County Department of Education, and Jerica Johnson, HR Induction Specialist.

The Town Hall began with Dr. Stewart and Dr. Vance welcoming the teachers to the space, and noting the growth and successes that have been happening in each Learning Community. Dr. Stewart noted that students from Midtown schools are already outperforming where they were at this point last year, which is due to the incredible commitment coming from teachers.

Jennifer Bronson began to cover the COVID-19 Task Force, composed of teachers, students, principals, parents, community members, and health care professionals, and their most recent decisions in response to the growing number of cases in Hamilton County. 1st year and 2nd year Corps Members showed true advocacy and agency with their questions, suggestions, and concerns when it comes to county decisions that impact the health, safety, and learning environments of their students.

Sierra Cook got straight to the point in asking how staff and student safety play a role in decision making, as well as if there is any plan for the upcoming holiday break. Merrick Mendenhall and Julie Fernandez pointed out that social distancing is difficult with high school students in small spaces. Danielle Goulb wanted to know how staff hospitalizations were taken into consideration, given that local hospitals are currently reporting no available ICU beds. Callie Phillps and Jex Young brought up the modified plan for Phase 2 that is being proposed for Midtown, asking about the true equity of the plan and how this will protect teachers and students from continued spread. Another CM anonymously noted in the Padlet that should the district need to continue to move into a fully virtual Phase 1, this would cause continued confusion, disruption, and inequity in Midtown given the modified Phase 2 proposal.

The district leaders had answers for each question, ranging from points that Midtown infection spread is low, Midtown schools typically already have high HCS @ Home representation and low student to teacher ratios, the CDC has research to show that schools are not a super spreader event, and that should high schoolers not be in school, they would be in the community causing more opportunities for community infection, etc. It was promising to hear that HCS will be piloting a Rapid Testing Program beginning in January, which could support data for infection rates among staff.

What was truly evident was that the TFA Corps Members were certain to make their voices heard, and showing district leadership that they are leaders in their own right. While the Phases and plans for the rising cases of COVID-19 in Hamilton County are ever changing, the Chattanooga TFA Corps Members continue to be committed to educational equity.

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