"Such a scary time. Our poor kiddos.." - A Concerned Parent
" We can make up the learning gaps, but we cannot replace infection or worse.." - Interviewed School Official
Frustrated parents, overwhelmed teachers, anxious students, and confused local leaderships - the educational climate in the US is hanging by a very thin thread.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rip through the economy and the health of Americans, over half of all elementary and high school students will be attending school online only this month. Meanwhile, roughly one-quarter of these students will still attend regular school despite warnings from the community and health officials.
This unusual situation has left many of us wondering 'when will kids go back to school' and 'what will school during the COVID pandemic look like?' In Los Angeles, the teacher's union to the second largest school system recently came to a tentative agreement with its school district defining what learning from home will look like. The detailed plan includes a 'structured schedule, mandatory attendance-taking and more required online time with teachers and counselors.'
However, the opinion on how to best handle the upcoming school year remains unclear. Like we saw in early March, reacting to the situation is not enough. Frustrated with the lack of stability and guidance surrounding education during this health crisis, we decided to do some digging. In this article, we identify and respond to the major factors contributing to the tough decision on how to best handle this 'Back-To-School' season. Finally, we will outline the pros-and-cons along with potential solutions for families and educational personnel.
Many of the discussions surrounding the school re-openings have focused on the different impacts it may have on parents, children, staff, and the community at large. However, the public still seems to be lost in a haze of miscommunication on what the virus really is, how it is affecting us, and how schools play a role in preventing it. Student development, along side public health and re-building the economy should be the highest priority of the American people. Without these three, we put our own future in jeopardy.
After analyzing the most popular comments and concerns about re-opening schools by parents, educators and health professionals, we have determined the three biggest factors to be: impacts on education, impacts on health and impacts on your sanity. Now, we will dive deeper into each factor to determine...
Are Schools A Safe Option?
Safety vs Education
Transitioning your child's learning from school to home is not a simple process, especially during a global pandemic.
Students need to value their learning experience and engage in classroom discussions, projects or field trips to develop into well-rounded citizens. Developing a daily schedule and personalized classroom setup at home are crucial to mimicking the usual school environment. One parent explained how she would rather see her children 'miss out on a year instead of going to school and something happening to them'.
Fair enough, right?
We cannot expect parents to be willing to sacrifice safety for the sake of learning. Similarly, we cannot expect teachers to act as stand-in babysitters for their students either. Teachers are educators meant to help your growing child rationalize the world around them. It seems that the flustered reaction of the public includes higher expectations for teacher's performance and accessibility. Though, we should not forget that our decisions to decrease educational spending nationally largely contributes to the lack of resources and preparedness during this crisis.
Demanding teachers to foster the same learning infrastructure as before March 2020 is not feasible or empathetic to teachers who themselves might be parents. Some courses such as statistics, algebra or chemistry are nearly impossible to teach completely online. Plus, many skills taught in school build upon one another meaning weak foundations may force students to repeat a grade and impact their academic confidence. If this year has taught us anything, it would be that collaboration, communication and creativity are fundamental keys to solving this growing issue.
Distance learning has its benefits. Less than half of school districts provided professional development programs over the summer for educators, or have a plan for coaching them on remote teaching practices during the academic year. This leaves substantial room to worsen the learning gaps already present from the delays in the spring. But, distance learning also has its downfalls. One of the biggest gaps in our current plans addresses the increasing number of students that are missing class — not logging on, not checking in or not completing assignments. As called chronic absenteeism, these attendance disparities are a direct result of weakened communication networks between schools and families.
A quote by the superintendent of the Los Angeles school district noted that "13 percent of high school students have had no online contact with teachers since schools closed three weeks ago, and one-third are not regularly participating in online learning." Across the nation, we noticed a trend that the current limitations are 'depressing' for both teachers and students likely influencing the abilities to teach well and the willingness to learn by students. Before COVID, it was easier to brush these gaps off - blaming work, traffic or some other reason. Now, we have nothing, but time.
“I actually need my teachers, who know me and understand me, to help me, and I don’t have that,” she said. “I just keep thinking, ‘Oh, my God, I might not pass.’ I’m just really scared for the future.” -Student, NY Times article
Safety vs Health
"It’s unrealistic for everyone to think we can do this without having some people get sick.”
-Superintendent of Martin County, USA TODAY
Picture This: Little Olivia arrives on her first day of school after nearly 6-months of quarantine, minimal structure and more time alone than most adolescents can handle. Olivia misses her friends, the freedom of the school day, her softball team and even the work sometimes. Little Olivia excitedly re-unites with her friends, or maybe she just wants a drink of water and touches the water fountain. She could have even just grabbed a door handle to enter the next classroom, but the result will be the same. Olivia forgot to disinfect her hands in the few first hours of school and now the viral transmission begins.
This story may be more common than you think. Several schools in Georgia, Mississippi, and Indiana attempted to move forward with re-opening schools. The result: schools were forced to close and return to online-only learning after less than a week of opening.
While each school is different and the likelihood of transmission always present, the goal should be to stabilize our education strategy with careful, measured and controlled metrics integrated into planning. According to an analysis by USA TODAY that looked at 9,900 zip codes throughout the US, one-in-three schools within the selected zip codes demonstrated a higher COVID-infection rate than the national average. The CDC released guidelines for school re-openings which involve: separating desks at least 6 feet apart, required cloth coverings for students, and closing communal areas like lunchrooms or playgrounds.
The question is: what is the right middle ground?
In an article released by NPR, they go over key points of contact throughout the school day and measure the levels of safety in potential re-opening plans. To find out if your school has a safe re-opening plan, we encourage you check out this article - here.
Several schools found that limiting the class sizes might be more important online than in the physical classroom. This seems reasonable from both a health and academic standpoint. Smaller class sizes means more one-on-one instruction, personalized learning and less likelihood of coming into contact with COVID. Although younger children are less susceptible to infection, we must be cautious about how they may indirectly contribute to spreading it.
Rather than bringing retired teachers back to school, one option that is accessible to any school is Insight Agency. Schools and districts can contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org to determine a discounted rate for their students to gain additional academic support. Not only would this option support small businesses needed to reboot the economy, collaborating with Insight Agency follows the social distancing guidelines encouraged by the CDC.
Don't sacrifice education and secure Insight on your team.
Safety vs Sanity
The situation is fluid - or at least we think it is. You do not need to be an expert on pandemics to see how the increasing viral transmission has impacted daily life. While we do not believe there is such a thing as being overly cautious during COVID, Insight recognizes the impacts school closures had on the mental health and well being of parents, students and educational staff. If your immediate reaction involved anger, frustration, anxiety, or depression - your emotional toll is valid. This is a difficult time and you have every right to be mentally and emotionally exhausted. Lowering the quality of education accessible to your kids will dismantle the structure they have known for most of their lives and their learning progression along with emotional and academic setbacks. Essentially, everyone is losing their sanity right now. We know, and its okay.
No more reacting - it is time that we collaborate on a response to the COVID crisis.
Although several school districts have attempted to set criteria for re-openings, the general mood of the public seems unstable and filled with anxiety. We need to ground ourselves to a educational plan that operates outside of COVID. We need to think dynamically about how to use this situation to remodel education and stick to it rain-or-shine. We need to integrate adaptability into our regular education plan for beyond COVID to get through COVID. Rather than wishing for our old normal, it is time for us to decide a new normal to anchor ourselves too.
This requires framing our mindset in ways that allow the teacher be the instructor, while the parent can act as the observer and the facilitator.
Safety & Solutions
The first generalization that we could suggest would be: everyone goes back to school - but we have evidence of what happens using that route.
We can look to the situation in Israel as an example of a 'cautionary tale' that reflects the outcome of rushing back to our old normal. After bringing their infected hospitalization rates to almost none, the Israeli government opted to sweetly and swiftly re-open their economy including returning back to schools as usual. Nearly three months later, the infection rate within the country has doubled as they grapple to pivot during an intensified second wave. About 10 percent of the cases tracked by health officials came from schools. Obviously, we cannot fully compare ourselves to Isreali situation. Isreal holds a population of roughly 8 million people, meanwhile the United States is home to 328 million people. But, their setback could be the wake-up call that we need to re-evaluate our school re-opening plans before its too late.
Clearly, this first option is a no. Clearly, right?
The second generalization that we could suggest would be: no one goes back to school and we continue with online education - but, we have a pretty good guess of what happens using that route.
In fact, we all saw what this scenario looks like in early March when the virus brought America to a screeching halt. Rather than play the blame game, we believe it is important to point out what the public learned from the sudden transition to distance learning. American education lacks the infrastructure to maintain only online learning. We were not ready.
Clearly, this second option is a no. Clearly, right?
The third generalization that we are suggesting would be: to use COVID-19 as an opportunity to re-think the ways we approach education.
Although we recognize the point made by assistant professor and deputy director at the Johns Hopkins Center for Safe and Healthy Schools, Annette Anderson, that "This is not a one-size-fits-all approach." We believe implementing hybrid education across the board could be the best one-size-fits-all solution - and we are not the only one. Learning pods, a novel idea to find a happy medium between the past and our present, emphasizes the unique possibilities that hybrid education can offer. These pods meet for three hours a day, three times a week in one of the family homes to offer child care and direct contact teachers need to effectively teach. Cool, right?
It's not our only option either.
Outdoor classes in open areas, organized small group trips to museums, partially open schools to academically-at-risk students or even to a more fluid 'come-when-you-can' model exemplify creatively using public health as a tool to help kids go back to school. One option could be to allow students burnt out from remote learning to be able to come to school buildings to access devices and internet in a supervised, socially distanced space. Another option involves enlisting the large community of unemployed parents to aid with sanitation control in school for a small 'wage'. Like the tentative plan being used by the LA school district, shortened school days will be crucial to minimizing the daily contacts between students and staff. Insight's progress report eliminate the stress and the pressure of trying to figure out how your child learns - we do it for you. We work with your family to create the best learning plan for your student that they can stay consistent and accountable too.
We have an opportunity to partner with local entities to integrate safe, educational activities for students. Even though it seems like 'every path forward is shrouded in uncertainty and every viable option has a definite downside', we forget the power we hold to ground ourselves and create new routines to fit life as we know it. If you get only one thing from this article, it should be that you can learn anywhere - not just in a classroom.
Weighing The Pros & Cons
One of the most valuable reasons for reflecting is to learn from mistakes where we can. We learned from watching Italy's rapid transmission rate in early February that ignoring the biological threat is not an option. We learned from Israel that to ensure a safe learning environment, we need to prioritize testing in schools and thoughtfully consider warnings from health officials.
Like the Insight Agency Approach, we support hybrid education as the best one-size-fits-all solution to the current educational climate. All that is missing from the many recently-released re-opening plans is a bit of creativity.
Thank you for reading this post.
Uncovering Knowledge That Lasts,