Insights and Practical Strategies for Working with Families during Covid-19: A Conversation with Jaime Carias

This virus or, as I like to call it, the stubborn beast known as Covid-19 has obviously destroyed and completely altered livelihoods for individuals across the globe. It has been especially arduous for those with young children. Parents have had to be teachers, cooks, housekeepers, psychologists, and overall multifaceted individuals throughout this horrific pandemic. 

Not to mention, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, America saw a staggering and frightening 14.2% unemployment rate in April. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, “How Many U.S. Workers Have Lost Jobs During Coronavirus Pandemic? There Are Several Ways to Count”, there is some data suggesting upwards of 40 million jobs were lost in the midst of this pandemic. 

Whether parents are employed and have the responsibility of remaining at work while also executing every other task, or whether they’re unemployed and have the compounded anxiety of lost wages, the overarching takeaway is that things are hard right now. We all may lie in the same seastorm, but everyone has different boats and distinct modes of security. 

One of the overwhelming predicaments for parents and children has been the transition to online learning. School sessions will obviously not be halted, but how effective can learning and teaching be online? How can we implement and design plans to make learning more effective?

I had the opportunity to catch up with urban educator and USC Annenberg Center for Third Space Thinking Fellow, Jaime Carias on the practical strategies and imperative approaches school educators and administrators must employ and maintain especially during Covid-19 for the benefit of children and their families. Jaime was invited to be a panelist for CALSA (California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators) to discuss these exact insights and strategies and how they could directly benefit families during this Covid-19 version of school. CALSA is a community of diverse educational leaders skilled in addressing the needs of Latino/a students and dedicated to increasing the number of highly effective Latino/a administrators.

A Conversation with Jaime Carias

The first thing I asked Jaime was, “What are the two attributes most essential to teaching, and counseling families in their educational experience?

His answer was simple. “Adaptability and Empathy”. Stress and anxiety have spread throughout our country like an infectious, uncontrollable virus or like irrepressible, raging wildfires. School officials cannot and must not allow preconceived notions, beholden to their experience only, to cloud and mislead their expectations of families during this time.

Jaime repeatedly uttered, “We don’t know what families are going through. We don’t know their mental state or financial states”. To assume, in any way, is insensitive and ignorant. 

Adaptability is vital to the success of this whole operation. We often consider and think of “adaptability” as extremely one-sided. That is, we seem to only examine the ways in which students and employees need to readjust their approach, methods, and techniques in order to complete tasks in the age of crises.  But individuals rarely consider the overall perspectives of schools, businesses, and organizations overseeing and delegating all functions and responsibilities in society and the ways these establishments have no choice, but to adapt.

Being versatile in unknown and unprecedented times cannot be one-sided. According to Jaime, school officials must be held to the same, if not, higher standards and expectations of adaptability than families. 

“They [school officials] must have the capability to meet  them [families] where they’re at. It’s not that you necessarily need to lower the ‘bar’, but they must know that, due to the times, it’s okay to not meet certain expectations” because it’s unrealistic and insensitive to assume that families can burden another massive load of responsibility. 

Jaime stressed that the first step to adapt as a school official is the development of sincere empathy for families. Being empathetic to families’ constant struggles, situations, and battles is imperative to getting the job done more effectively.

According to Jaime, one cannot sincerely adapt without having more of an understanding and compassion for their students’ livelihoods. I wanted to get to the root of “understanding” and “compassion” though. Recognizing that the genuine understanding of peers and individuals around you emanates from the possession of similar experiences, backgrounds, and social circumstances, I asked Jaime, “How critical is it to Latinos in Superintendent and Administrative roles/positions in education?

We know that adaptability can emerge from empathy. But what breeds empathy? Jaime’s response was, once again, simple and straightforward, “Cultural Competence”. Considering that the “majority of kids in the K-12 public school system in California are Latinos, they need to be included, not forgotten, and adequately represented in decision-making that affects their education directly. This is why he says having Latinos in these roles is not an option, it’s necessary. 

Adaptability. Empathy. Cultural Competence. It’s not an option, it’s necessary.