Posted on June 11, 2020, by GAPMP
Evans County Parent Mentor Amanda Locke shares her experiences with virtual conferences and the quarantine
During the Covid-19 Quarantine, Georgia Parent Mentors have had to use resources and tools that, even if they had some limited experience with them before the quarantine, suddenly became the primary way for mentors to reach out to families, offer training and collect data.
In Evans County, where, according to Parent Mentor Amanda Locke, over 90% of the families are eligible for free and reduced lunch, the switch to virtual meetings and online learning forced the school district to focus on making sure staff had uniform platforms and processes for reaching out to families, namely through the use of Blackboard.
“I jumped on this, and started learning it and sending out messages about resources to families,” she said. Amanda’s office is located within the front office of the high school and the connections she experiences on a regular basis by being at a school site are, as she said, “oxygen” to her.
But, she also completely understood the necessity of the quarantine, she also had to help her two children understand the importance of social distancing and finding new ways to connect and interact with people.
So, in the midst of the isolation and learning the new normal, Amanda chose to participate in the 6th Annual Autism Conference and Expo, hosted by the Autism Plan for Georgia on May 13 and 14, 2020, offered for the first time for free as an online conference on the Zoom platform.
“I had never been to a virtual conference before, but, our 1st District Transition Alliance did a virtual transition fair one year and so I had a little idea of how those work,” she said.
Attending the virtual conference really drove home the idea, Amanda said, that this way of doing conferences and professional development training will probably become part of a new normal.
She also reflected on how parents are going to be participating in events this way, both in their work lives, and as engaged parents. “I do think in some ways parents will be more apt to participate,” she said. In other ways, the connections she created through texting and online contacts were encouraging. “At first I was desperate to reassure parents it was me. Because I know everyone gets those calls and messages that are just spam. Then, once they realized it was me, and not a spam call on their cell phone, we had some good conversations,” she said.
But Amanda’s experience of the quarantine was focused more on “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need”. She had the best connecting with families when she would assist with the food distribution. “We have a lot of families who don’t have consistent access to internet. That was a big barrier to them being able to continue assisting with learning,” she said.