It’s hard to believe that this school year is coming to an end. These last twelve months will be studied in the coming years for a myriad of reasons, but for those of us who care for and directly support school-aged children, the impact of the pandemic on our students’ daily lives looms particularly large. Whether it’s reliable access to academic instruction, mental health support, or social isolation, our students are facing significant challenges as a direct result of the pandemic.
We’ve heard from all points of contact within our school communities — administrators, counselors, teachers, and staff — that locating students and caregivers has been extraordinarily difficult this year. Sometimes it is an administrative matter easily remedied by finding an updated contact phone number. Other times, it takes months’ long efforts to locate students, starting with phone calls and letters and ultimately physically knocking on doors to find out how we can get our students re-engaged. No one tactic is a catch-all when it comes to reconnecting our students. But we know two things for certain after this past year: this is a nationwide issue that takes coordinated efforts to overcome. Second, when we are able to reconnect our matches, our students and caregivers are extremely grateful.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, almost 3 million students have gone missing from schools nationwide, according to a study published recently by the nonprofit Bellweather Education Partners. We know that students and families who are most at risk to lose contact with their schools are those that speak English as a second language, those with financial insecurity which leads to moving around a lot and changes in phone numbers, and those without access to reliable internet service. In other words, the students and families most likely to lose contact with their schools are statistically likely to be many of the same students and families that we serve specifically through Seedling’s mission.
Despite these challenges, we see the light at the end of the tunnel. As matches get reconnected, even disrupted schedules can’t put a damper on the enthusiasm and excitement our students have about reconnecting with their mentors. School staff report students telling them that meeting with their mentors is the highlight of their weeks. So far this year, we’ve reconnected 250 of our active matches, most of them on our brand new custom virtual platform! We are committed to exhausting all available resources in order to reconnect remaining matches. Our hope is that all of you will remain Seedling mentors next year, whether mentoring virtually or, if district safety measures permit, in-person.
This year in particular, we’ve demonstrated to students, families, and school partners that Seedling mentors are a reliable support network who genuinely care about the needs of our students and community. I’m so proud of the work we’ve done this year, and the ways we’ve adapted to serve our students when they needed it most. I feel blessed and humbled to be part of a community of such dedicated volunteers — one that I can confidently claim as the best in Central Texas.