Saturday, March 21, 2020

Pause. Breathe. Rest. Fight.

Well, there is apparently one thing that can stop a dream in its tracks: COVID-19.

After months of planning and getting ready for our big community data story for the spring Arts's canceled. And while I am in 100% supportive of the decision to cancel the event, I also know that it is okay to express personal disappointment. I am grateful that I'm (currently) are all my friends and extended family...but I admit that I'm quite sad about having to postpone things.

I know it isn't forever. When this pandemic is over, there will be other Arts Walk. We will finish the project, even if it doesn't go on display for awhile.

So, let me tell you just how far we got and what we've been learning along the way. If you need to catch up on the background of this project, you can read an overview or my first reflection on the process.

During the month of February, my assistant and I built relationships with all of the six Boys and Girls Clubs in our county. We visited each one in person to talk about the project and get input from directors about the needs they were seeing with students. By the end of the month, we had returned to four of the clubs to conduct focus groups with K - 12 students. Our conversations were framed around the role of neighbours and friends in their lives. For older students, we also devoted part of the conversation to the community at large.

Some interesting things came out of these conversations. For example, in every group a single (and unexpected) statement was made: We had to move because our neighbours were too loud. We heard this from urban students who live in apartments and rural kids who live in trailers that are out in the woods. We heard it from homeless kids and ones from homes with a stable income. And while we didn't lean into that statement, we did wonder what it was code for. Did it mean their parents couldn't make the rent and didn't want kids to they just blamed the move on the neighbours? Did it refer to domestic violence or drugs or other environmental factors? Or was it really just plain noise? Another thing that was consistently said across groups had to do with dogs. Kids everywhere talked about being barked at, bitten by, and generally displeased with dogs. Maybe you have a very good boy at home...but a lot of kids are having to manage community spaces where they are feeling threatened by these animals.While neither of these pieces made it into our final survey, they will be reflected in our final display.

Also during that time frame, we worked with a carpenter to build the six frames (one example is above) and 12 boards (one is in the background of the picture above). We partnered with a local upholstery shop to test out different threads and put in our order for our final choice. We secured the rest of the materials we thought we'd need.

By the first week in March we transitioned to the individual surveys. Here are five questions we identified:
  1. I am in grades Kindergarten, 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5.
  2. If I see someone new at school, I introduce myself.
  3. It is important to me to know my neighbors.
  4. I try to build relationships with my neighbors.
  5. I do things in my community that make a difference.
Because the beads are on a ring, we needed a way to consistently tell which question was the first one. But this wasn't quite enough, because even if you could identify question number one, you couldn't tell which was question two. So, we ended up creating two questions with binary answers and using two sets of colours (white, grey for Q1 and beige, brown for Q2) to start things off. Questions 3, 4, and 5 use a three-response option (often, sometimes, rarely).

We were able to get one afternoon of surveying in before schools were closed. If things were different...if this pandemic was something that would have swept through in a month and been gone...then we did have a plan to capture more data. Our Boys and Girls Clubs are open to provide childcare for first responders and other emergency service workers (in addition to their regular groups of no more than 50) and we could have asked them to do paper surveys and then string the beads later.

We also identified the questions from our statewide Healthy Youth Survey to pull from district-level data. Here are the questions we intend to showcase for each of the six districts, as a way to compliment the data from the six clubs in their respective areas:
  1. There are adults in my neighborhood or community I could talk to about something important.
  2. My neighbors notice when I am doing a good job and let me know.
  3. There are people in my neighborhood who encourage me to do my best.
  4. There are people in my neighborhood or community who are proud of me when I do something well. 

We did not write the five questions for the community survey during Arts Walk (the interactive part with the string). We do intend to have one question that is the same for both the K - 12 survey and the adult survey. I suspect it will be question 3 or 4.

I won't pretend that the answers for six months from now won't be vastly different. At least, I suspect they will be after we get through this crisis. I think we will look at neighbours and our roles and responsibilities to the community very differently. I kinda wish we'd been able to finish this display before the outbreak...and then do something to look at these same questions through the lens of "after." 

For now, everything is frozen in time. The display...the launch of my bigger dream (The Data Lab)...and more. I am not the only one to find themselves in this situation. For all of us, we're in a type of stasis while other things get sorted out. I am trying to remind myself that this time to pause and reflect and rest will provide the resources to fight hard later.

And I will.

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