As learning modalities shifted back and forth from virtual to hybrid to in-person with COVID-19 safety restrictions, TFF’s investees kept the social and emotional well-being of their students at the center of their work, just as TFF focused on human connection and relationships with its investees. While investees acknowledged the immense challenges brought on by COVID-19, several believe their focus on SEL placed them at an advantage: “We are able to handle the pandemic much more successfully [than some other youth serving organizations] by virtue of the existing focus on SEL. It’s hard to imagine, but without that, it could have been so much worse for our kids if our climate, culture, and staff weren’t focused on the social and emotional aspects.” Yet, at the time of this report’s completion, educator exhaustion and burnout is a significant issue facing schools and educational programs in cities across the country and Bridgeport is no exception. Multiple Bridgeport schools also experienced decreases in attendance and increases in chronic absenteeism, defined as “missing 10 percent or greater of the total number of days enrolled during the school year for any reason.”
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, TFF offered flexibility to investees as requested, encouraging them to adjust goals and timelines and to channel grant funds to plug budget holes not filled by federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds (ESSER) or the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The pandemic’s duration has significantly impacted investees’ ability to achieve the objectives outlined in their proposals to TFF in 2018, but the last two years have also reinforced the importance of prioritizing social and emotional well-being and learning, including resilience and healing, in schools and youth-serving organizations.