The Parent Institute for Quality Education, also known as PIQE, had been offering workshops to parents who need help navigating the school systems. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the organization realized it needed to rethink how it was reaching out to the families it serves, who are often low-income, immigrants and refugees and don’t speak English.

Distance learning had become one more source of stress for families that were already stretched thin in the wake of the pandemic, said Patty Chavez, director of policy with PIQE.

“Keep Learning California came out of that need to address families feeling overwhelmed,” Chavez said.

The centerpiece of the initiative is a bilingual website that connects parents to resources to help them navigate distance learning. But it also has information for educators to make sure that they’re doing what they can to reach out to those parents who are not so well connected.

PIQE conducted a phone survey of parents from around the state who had graduated from their parent engagement program since the pandemic struck. Those conversations formed the basis of a lot of the information on the Keep Learning California website. For instance, of the 435 parents in the Fresno, Bakersfield and Modesto area, half didn’t have an email address, 21 percent didn’t have internet at home and 30 percent of parents said they didn’t understand the instructions regarding distance learning.

Chavez would find that some parents without email addresses would be missing out on key information from their school because of the simple fact they didn’t have an email address.

Even when technology is available, some parents aren’t sure how to use it and they’re embarrassed to reach out to their schools for help. For instance, they might be a whiz with a phone, but have no clue what a hotspot is or how to work a Chromebook.

“A lot of this is so new to them,” Chavez said.

The site also provides information about parent and student rights — the ones listed are ones where other families have had problems. For example, it reminds parents that the California Constitution guarantees students a free education, so districts cannot charge students for the technology they need and the technology has to be functioning. There is also quite a bit of information on the rights of students with special needs.

If a school district isn’t providing a family with what the student needs to learn, Keep Learning California has contacts so that parents can get help. And Chavez says she wants parents to ask questions because this helps them know what kind of resources they should be creating for the community.

Keep Learning California is a partnership with Families in Schools, which does a lot of work in Los Angeles, and Attendance Works, which is an organization that focuses on closing equity gaps by reducing chronic absence.

California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond gave the initiative his blessing in a release: “Initiatives like Keep Learning California provide critical support for families, students and educators so children can continue learning in these challenging times.”

For more information about Keep Learning California, visit http://keeplearningca.org. To learn more about PIQE’s local efforts, visit https://www.piqe.org/piqe-bakersfield/