Local resources for local education

Michael Smith
Ardmore Literacy Leadership Coalition Executive Director Ari James during a video interview on Friday. As social distancing becomes a regular practice amid the COVID-19 pandemic, James says coalition members will continue to develop alternative methods to support literacy in southern Oklahoma.

The Ardmore Literacy Leadership Coalition is facing the same challenges as many other organizations during a global pandemic. With school buildings and libraries closed in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, Executive Director Ari James still feels responsible to continue providing services to parents and students who most need them.

He is not alone, either. James said coalition members have all stepped up to ensure patrons are getting what they need.

“These are all things that are happening very quickly, but I feel like the individual leadership of our local organizations, in conversations that I’ve had with them, are looking for ways to help,” James said by phone on Thursday.

He expressed confidence that services will continue, even if in an altered form. For instance, James said coalition member The Grace Center has canceled some financial literacy classes in order to shift resources and provide support — showers, laundry, and even mail service — for community members in dire need.

“We do have several students who are very close to being prepared to take the GED test, however those testing facilities are currently closed due to health (sic) risks,” James said in a Thursday text message. “That is one issue that we are diligently working on to find solutions.”

Other coalition partners are finding ways to help community members who may not necessarily rely on them under different circumstances. “We have childcare providers who are looking at ways to continue to help those who are still working in medical and law enforcement,” James said.

Ardmore Public Library and the Southern Oklahoma Library System, which house many of the coalition members’ offerings, continue limited services like curbside and wireless internet access while their facilities are closed to the public.

“Both of the local libraries have really stepped up in terms of making things available, making sure the community knows what resources they have, and trying to find ways to make that still accessible,” James said.

Connectivity is an important facet of services provided by coalition members, especially for adult learners. James said Ardmore Family Literacy continues their classes with an online platform.

Conventional wisdom suggests moving in-person educational services online is a natural move, but technology or internet access outside of a public setting is the not reality for many.

“With those places being closed, we are hearing that a lot of people aren’t able to connect,” James said. As a result, outreach with phone calls and text messages are being considered to keep families up-to-date with what resources are available.

Online connectivity is also being considered by educators as classrooms remain closed. The Oklahoma State Board of Education last week voted to keep public school buildings closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

Districts have been given a level of autonomy to develop distance learning plans that best meet the needs of their students, which for some means limited internet access.

The social networks built by the Ardmore Literacy Leadership Coalition could play an important role for area schools that cannot solely rely on online communications, and James thinks that helping schools finish the year may become a reality.

For example, coalition partners have already developed chains of communication that could help connect schools with parents and students who may not receive regular updates through a school’s social media accounts.

While James has not been in direct communication with local school administrators, he said resources have already been forwarded to area educators as they figure out how to use distance learning to complete the school year.

“Now that we have information, the guidelines have been put out and we know what waivers are out there, we can start planning.” James said.

“So over the next couple of weeks, everyone in the community can expect to see not just the schools, but these extra programs finding ways to help and support parents and students as we figure out the new normal.”