Esperanza Academy Update from the Missions Committee

We have worked to stay in touch with our mission partners over the last few months, as this continues to be a difficult time for all. As a new school year starts, our prayers are with all students, teachers, administrators, and families as they navigate this difficult time. Many thanks to Mia Ong for attending Esperanza Academy’s recent Town Hall meeting and providing the update below for all of us.

Jadihel Taveras, Head of School at Esperanza Academy, led a Town Hall on Thursday, September 3rd. The link to his 20-minute presentation can be accessed here: 

Jadi said that the best ways to help would be to continue donations to the school and to participate in the upcoming virtual Harvest of Hope. The Mission Committee included the Harvest of Hope in our annual budget, and will stay in touch about how individuals can participate as we learn more.

Below are some relevant highlights from Jadi’s presentation:

Systemic Barriers that Exacerbate the Impact of COVID-19 on Lawrence

  • Communities of color, such as Lawrence, are affected by COVID-19 disproportionately compared to neighboring areas (e.g., the high number of essential workers, inadequate sick leave for workers, inability to work remotely, lack of access to nutritious foods). Jadi sees poverty as the root cause for the discrepancy.
  • Lawrence has a reported 4132 residents (55% women, 45% men) confirmed positive for COVID-19. The true number of cases is likely much higher, up to 3X higher, as many residents fear the government and what might happen if they get tested. 
  • Fewer than 100 children nationwide have died of COVID-19, according to the CDC, but among those children, the majority are Hispanic and Black children. Poverty and pre-existing underlying conditions such as obesity (which is related to poverty) are linked to higher risk of infection. 
  • Children can also serve as transmitters to other members of their households. In communities of color like Lawrence, many of these households are intergenerational with vulnerable members such as grandparents.

Actions Esperanza Has Taken to Support Students and Their Families

Esperanza is:

  • Prioritizing an Anti-Racist and culturally responsive pedagogical approach, including a restorative justice model that unpacks and addresses the root causes of negative behaviors (e.g., exploring why a student is consistently late to school, as opposed to punishing surface behavior) and honoring the cultural wealth that students bring to their learning.
  • Offering students (and, in some cases, parents) Music Therapy to help them heal and build self-esteem. Music Therapy is also providing coping skills for dealing with the stress-provoking context of coronavirus. This approach is also anti-racist, as it is culturally appropriate therapy in many cultures where traditional therapy is taboo.
  • Partnering (virtually) with Elevated Art to offer students artistic outlets to express themselves.
  • Partnering with the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center to have a mobile unit parked in front of Esperanza 2-3 times a week so students and their family members may have any health concerns addressed.
  • Partnering with Bread and Roses to help parents break the cycle of poverty and become homeowners. This partnership is currently helping the family of one Esperanza student, which is homeless, find a place to live and find greater stability.
  • Partnering with Northern Essex Community College to offer programs for parents to create financial security in their families so they’re not living paycheck to paycheck. Examples of programs include culinary arts and home inspection certifications.

Next Steps: Fall 2020

  • Esperanza’s current Mission Statement opens with: “Through the academic year, 2020-2021, Esperanza will deliver a holistic program focused on addressing the academic and social disparities that impact our students and their families as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic.” This year, it will prioritize community, learning, justice, and flexibility.
  • Given the health risks, they plan to start remotely. However, while being remote, they will keep the school open for the most vulnerable, limiting the number of students in the building and ensuring that students and staff observe social distancing procedures. They are prepared to have students in small numbers. Space is a limitation for keeping 6 feet apart for all 62 students plus staff. They will open as soon as they can.
  • Esperanza has a new principal who is well-attuned to the students and their needs.
  • The school will be nimble and respond to needs as they occur. It has donations of 8,000 masks, 50 thermometers, plenty of gowns, gloves, air filters, etc. 
  • It will offer free lunch for kids; families can pick up.
  • Teachers are ready and eager to connect with the students.