South Orangetown Central School District

As Executive Director of Pupil Personnel Services, Karen Tesik oversees school counseling, school nursing, school social work, special education and related services, and the Family Engagement Center, with an unwavering focus on supporting all students in achieving success. This week, Tesik shares how her team is adapting its efforts in response to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With schools closed and the shift to remote operations, how is the District’s counseling team working to support students’ social-emotional wellbeing and academic progress?

Our students feel the stress of this situation in their own ways and our counseling team’s mission to support them emotionally and academically hasn’t changed. However, how we deliver that support that has changed. Without opportunities for daily, in-person contact, we have to rely on email, phone calls and video conferencing. So we’re adapting. The goal for this first, full week of distance learning was to open lines of communication with our students and families and identify resources they need, including food, technology, academic and/or emotional support.

How is the district reimagining special education and related services, like occupational therapy or reading, for a distance learning environment?

Providing Special Education and 504 students with their services is difficult to do in distance learning–but it’s not impossible. For example, parents whose children receive individualized support, such as reading, occupational therapy, speech services and physical therapy, are working with their providers to determine how to best facilitate their children’s progress, whether through home therapy plans, video conferencing, phone calls–or a combination of these and other methods. Parents have become amazing partners in helping us figure out how to integrate services into a home setting. We’re grateful for their patience and flexibility as we try new things.

How is the Family Engagement Center supporting K-12 families during the school closure?

The FEC is primarily focused on meeting the needs of our food and housing-insecure families throughout this crisis, as well as working collaboratively with the District’s Technology department to support families who need devices or wifi hotspots.

The ParentChild+ program, which launched last fall in collaboration with Rockland 21C to promote home-based literacy and social skills development for families without access to preschool, was suspended weeks ago. However, we’ve been able to provide these families with books and activities to engage their young children.

We are grateful for the incredible outpouring of support from the South Orangetown community which has translated to a collective contribution of more than $4,000 worth of $25 grocery store gift cards to help our community’s most vulnerable families meet basic needs.

FEC Coordinator AJ Walker has been amazing in terms of responding to requests made through the District Hotline. Any family needing support should continue to reach out by emailing or calling (845) 680-1025.

Pictured below, FEC Coordinator AJ Walker with a meal home delivery and CSE Chairperson and Wilson Reading Teacher Lori Graham in her remote workspace.

AJ Walker and Lori Graham