From the emergence of a novel coronavirus, children in the United States have been surviving threats to their physical safety, their psychological well-being, and their economic security. California officials have worked to minimize adverse childhood experiences and build the resilience of California's children during this unprecedented period of disruption. Specifically, County Offices of Education (COEs) have enacted an emergency response plan intended to prepare educators to be first-line responders to promote and protect student psychological wellbeing. In this paper, first, we will describe the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funded “CalHope Initiative” that created one statewide and 58 countywide Communities of Practice to disseminate science-based Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) strategies across California. Second, we will describe the results of a Needs Assessment completed at the start of the CalHope initiative to explore the context in which this initiative began.
The CalHope Initiative included 57 of the 58 COEs in California, all invited to participate in an initial Needs Assessment (February 2021). Data were drawn from the State of California Employment Development Department, California Department of Public Health, and the California Department of Education including county unemployment rate, county 7-day average of known CoVid infections per 100K residents, and county 7-day average known CoVid deaths per 100K residents. In addition, COE representatives were surveyed about their attitude toward SEL and reported stress. Surveys were completed by a range of 1-6 representatives per COE. Counties were further classified by size, population density, and student population served (60% of counties were predominantly Latinx serving while 40% were predominantly White serving).
At baseline, county CoVid infections per 100K residents (M=26, SD=9.5) ranged from 7 to 50, CoVid deaths per 100K residents (M=.60, SD=.65) ranged from 0 to 2, and average unemployment rate (M=8.37, SD=2.22) ranged from 5 to 15.9. COE representative attitudes towards SEL were inversely associated with disease and death rates. Marginal (p<.08) differences in attitudes toward SEL were observed between counties serving predominantly Latinx (M=3.79, SD=0.46) vs. White student bodies (M=3.44, SD=.46). Although there were significant differences in disease and death rates between predominant Latinx and White communities (p<.001), no significant difference was found between stress levels of COE representatives serving these communities.
The significant difference in the number of CoVid infections and deaths between counties by student ethnic composition reiterates that communities of color were more affected by the pandemic, and COE leaders may feel a responsibility for responding proportionately. The association between attitude towards SEL and infections/deaths per 100K people suggests that COE leaders may find SEL as a useful approach for meeting the demands of these unprecedented times. Limitations of the study include a convenience sample of COE representatives in the survey that only included 81% of invited counties. Future research will include a qualitative analysis of specific county struggles reported by COE representatives.