Mijares: A year of distress and disruption also highlighted our resilience

It is impossible to overstate the challenges our schools were presented with this year, from having to immediately pivot to distance learning in March, to putting in place the latest COVID-19 safety protocols in the summer and fall.

Every step of the way, our teachers, students, support staff and families demonstrated extraordinary resilience, working as partners to minimize barriers to learning during the worst public health threat in a century.

An image of Orange County Superintendent Al MijaresI am exceptionally proud of these efforts, along with the school district leaders of Orange County who have made difficult and courageous decisions. Nothing about the last 10 months has been easy, but our superintendents and their leadership teams have been meticulous and collaborative in their approach to planning, resulting in effective mitigation measures and varied instructional models designed to meet a variety of needs.

Simply put, I cannot imagine any other industry transforming its entire business model in just a matter of days with limited resources.

Throughout this crisis, our staff at the Orange County Department of Education has adapted admirably while continuing to focus on the whole child. Along with developing resources to help maintain instructional continuity — and distributing nearly 1,800 hotspots to help districts expand their connectivity — OCDE has supported the mental health needs of students through no-cost trainings for educators, covering trauma-informed practices, social-emotional learning, restorative practices and suicide-risk assessment.

Our department also leads a statewide committee that’s been creating professional development opportunities and resources aligned with California’s Health Education Framework, which helps educators deliver standards-based lessons related to physical, mental, emotional and social health.

While the pandemic is causing frustration, anxiety and disruption to our everyday lives, it is also serving as the basis for lessons on how to handle adversity and manage ourselves in such a way that we don’t allow hardships to tear us down and fracture our communities. I believe these lessons will have long-term benefits.

I also believe there is light at the end of the tunnel in the form of effective vaccines that, when made available to the general public, will turn the tide against COVID-19. But there is a tremendous amount of work ahead as we continue to customize learning through in-person classes, remote instruction and hybrid models — and as we make plans for what comes next.

In time, our campuses will celebrate the full return of students. When that happens, it will be critical to assess where each child is at, academically and emotionally — and to respond accordingly with trauma-informed care. Because we have all experienced trauma in 2020.

I believe the Orange County Department of Education is well-positioned to support these efforts in concert with our district and community partners, ensuring students are on track for college and career readiness and success.

After all, today’s students will be the ones to tackle tomorrow’s great challenges, and we must do everything in our power to equip them.