On Monday, the Philadelphia School District and Uplift, the Center for Grieving Children, will launch the Philly HopeLine, a hotline that will connect district children and families to grief support services, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said at a news conference Thursday.
The resource comes in response to a need in the community, said Jayme Banks, the district’s director of trauma-informed practices.
“Speaking with families and students over the past few months, they’ve shared how difficult this time is for them,” said Banks. “They feel isolated, disconnected, they have worries about all of the unknowns.”
The hotline, 833-PHL-HOPE, will operate Monday through Friday from noon to 9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. It will be staffed by master’s-level clinicians and available by call or text, and will not end when the school year ends for students on June 12.
An anonymous donor gave $250,000 for the project, which is funded through August and could extend beyond that date.
Uplift has long partnered with the district to provide free grief support groups for district students and staff inside schools.
The news conference came during the first week since March that district educators are teaching new material.
Attendance figures are not yet available, the superintendent said, but he estimated that less than 1% of students — about 500 out of the district’s 130,000 children — have not been accounted for. To find families, schools have made calls, sent text messages, knocked on doors, and in some cases consulted with city agencies.
Students are being marked present in various ways, including logging into an online platform, texting with a teacher, connecting with a teacher by phone call, or sending a photo of themselves working to a teacher.
The goal of education during the pandemic, Hite said, is to stop academic regression and maintain relationships and identify what supports children need.
“We are maintaining our relationships with young people so that they don’t feel lost,” Hite said. “Success for me is if in fact we’re able to make contact with children.”
And while some parents have raised the idea of writing off the rest of the school year and having children repeat a grade because of the lost months of instruction, Hite said that was not an option.
“We’re not just going to do wholesale retention because of what children are experiencing,” the superintendent said. “But instead, when we get back to some point of normalcy, we will do some kind of assessment to see where children are, and to work to get them back to where they should be throughout the next year.”
Though the district has made loaner Chromebooks available to all students, some still lack the ability to complete work virtually — often because they lack internet access. The district has purchased 2,500 mobile hot spots to help get more children online, but that number is lower than the count of children who need them.
Hite said he was working with school leaders nationally to address equity issues around connectivity.
“It’s a critical infrastructure issue,” Hite said. “People should have access to the information particularly if we have to use this to educate children, just as they have access to meals and nutrition."