COLUMBIA — Over the past nine months, kitchens have been transformed into classrooms, and living rooms have become libraries. The move to virtual learning has been challenging for both parents and school leaders.
“There are no easy decisions right now,” said Peter Stiepleman, EdD, superintendent of Columbia Public Schools. “We are in a lot of unknowns. We are trying to navigate what is uncharted waters.”
Amid the uncertainty, though, the University of Missouri School of Medicine is offering a resource to help inform those tough decisions. Through the COVID-19 and Kids ECHO, school nurses, superintendents and school board members from around the state are linked via videoconference with pediatric health experts at MU Health Care and other hospitals.
Show-Me ECHO, which stands for Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes, has been used for the past five years. The program typically connects primary doctors across the state with specialists to discuss important issues, such as opioid abuse and autism. Now, it’s become a critical resource in keeping Missouri kids safe during the pandemic.
During the hour-long sessions, participants and experts tackle tough questions: How do teachers work with special-needs children who can’t wear a mask? What sort of personal protective equipment should school nurses wear? Who needs to quarantine after a possible exposure?
“We can come together in a drama-free opportunity to think through: What are the policies? What do we know? What are the pieces of information, and how do we use that information to keep everybody as safe as we can?” said Kristin Sohl, MD, a pediatrician at MU Health Care and president of the Missouri Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Since September, Sohl has helped lead the weekly COVID-19 and Kids ECHO sessions.
“Everyone has different needs and different opinions, but that's what makes ECHO great,” Sohl said. “It's about collaboration, and it's about really building that collaborative trust and figuring out, ‘How do we make sure that we're thinking about this together?’”
So far, school leaders have logged on from 67 counties in Missouri. Stiepleman is one of the regular attendees.
“I love that there’s new learning. I love that there’s a real community of regular participants,” Stiepleman said. “I love that there’s no judgment, but rather, a genuine interest in growing and expanding one’s knowledge so they can make good decisions.”
School leaders and community health care providers are invited to join the ECHO sessions each Thursday afternoon. You can find more information and register here.