By Van Schoales
Families and kids are now faced with a new reality of school at home, not just for the next few weeks but likely for the rest of the school year. As this is a time of uncertainty and stress for most families, it could be a time to rethink what and how students can be learning.
This puts a huge burden on families to adjust to learning at home while parents are either not home because of their need to work elsewhere or even work from home while supporting their kids. Additionally, many are finding themselves without pay or a job to support their families, which makes this new reality of teaching their kids at home, even harder to grasp.
Some schools and districts have jumped right into homeschooling or e-learning while others are transitioning with an appropriate focus on getting food and other basic supports to families first. As school districts begin to solve the challenge of serving outside support to families, they will need to transition to providing individualized learning support for those families that need the support through extra communication and financial support. Some families will have more space (e.g. backyards and nearby parks) and far more financial resources to cope with home learning. This will be a challenging transition, but teachers and parents can do so much here when they have the right support from their schools and districts.
The good news is that there are now hundreds of school districts and maybe thousands of schools that have smoothly transitioned to this new normal because they have been doing virtual or e-learning at some scale for years. We should look to these schools, if proven to successfully serve students academically, for guidance.
Many school districts, schools and teachers are stepping up to provide online learning opportunities, getting learning materials to students’ homes and checking in daily with kids. This would be a valuable time to dig into what many districts have been trying to do in terms of providing home visits with appropriate social distancing or by phone or computer.
As of the timing of this piece, one of the biggest policy challenges for districts moving forward is how schools move forward to support all students remotely, in particular students receiving special education services, English language learners, students experiencing homelessness and other special student populations.
Understandably, there are a number of school districts both nationally and locally who are concerned that offering learning to some students will open them up to legal liability if they are not offering education to all. I am hopeful that federal and state authorities can solve these policy and practice challenges soon with clear guidance, so schools and districts are not stuck with concerns about liability for serving all students the right away and can move forward to serve as many students as possible, now with a commitment to reach ALL students when possible. Districts should communicate with all students and their families on how they are there to support them and not wait for schools to return after spring break.
Our most vulnerable students and families must be supported, and we cannot wait until the perfect solution arises while not supporting other students as districts in Oklahoma, Maryland and elsewhere are doing right now.
I thought it might be helpful to share some examples of how others are currently supporting home and remote learning. The first and most critical concern should begin with communications. How is the school, teachers, families and students communicating with one another and supporting one another in what will be very tough at times ahead? Having a large variety of means to do this online, by phone in some cases with social distancing, will be critical to ensure successful transitions to these new circumstances.
Kids need to talk about what is happening and know that while this is a crisis, we will make it through this tough time. Although I believe in the theory and action of social distancing during this time, I won’t get started on how the term appears problematic to those students, specifically students with disabilities, who are taught to rely on human connection.
Schools will be stepping up in the coming days to provide regular communication to families, guidance and learning materials to families as they gear up for this new normal.
There can be a silver lining in that if there was ever a crisis that offers opportunities for kids to learn about science, health, biology, viruses, math, economics, government and a host of other things that are real and relevant to all of us, that time is now. It’s springtime and with the right supports, families can get outside with social distancing and support students to do sorts of projects to explore their communities and the world.
I understand that families must face the realities of meeting their basic needs before they can start to plan for a future of learning indoors, but there are various opportunities available for students to “escape” the harsh reality of this crisis and participate in new activities that can help with coping and nurture learning development.
If ever there was time to take up journaling, this would be a great time to have kids reflect on what they are experiencing and feeling during this crisis. Maybe this is an opportunity to learn to play an instrument or learn a new language. Or explore all of the great museums online. Design and set up a new garden.
There are several ideas to consider and a lot of resources available (sometimes too many). For example, you might consider having your kids do something like looking into something that would otherwise seem irrelevant or hard to learn about like money, the economy or the Federal reserve given its importance in this crisis. Maybe design a project to track how the virus is expanding or slowing and how we are responding. There are also some great ideas here through the Expeditionary Learning Education site that tie directly to what students should know and do in most states. All schools should have an online, place based-projects, printed materials, coaching support and daily communication in order to take advantage of these circumstances.
Jeffco Public Schools, which serve 84,000 students, has already transitioned their first week of remote learning with a host of resources to families that includes schedules, online learning, communication and other supports. Jeffco has had some advantage in that they have provided online learning for a number of years and also have more capacity than many other Colorado school districts, but others can learn from their experiences.
One great example of a large charter network is Success Academy in New York, which has made some remarkable changes quickly with a long list of new routines and supports for students and families. Success Academy’s first priority “is talking with parents about what the plan is, so that we can be most supportive.” Like most of the schools- public, public charter, or private, they have established daily check-ins with students and families along with detailed lesson plans and schedules for home learning.
It will be important for families to set up new routines with schedules for kids that include time for reading, projects, art, meals and exercising (maybe some family yoga workouts and certainly family exploration walks, with appropriate healthy space). Granted this is an elite private school in San Francisco, Urban has a nice outline of what parents and students should expect daily with support from the school in this new normal. This is the sort of guidance that all schools should get out to families.
Mike Goldstein, a Massachusetts’s school leader shares his experience setting up “daddy” school for his 4 and 6-year-olds with some good ideas.
This is only the start; we are likely to be in this new normal until the summer or fall. Educators, like so many, are burning the midnight oil to solve a myriad of problems to better support student learning in this crisis. We will continue to look around Colorado and the country for how schools are supporting home learning and share through A+ Colorado’s communication channels.