By Dana Harris • Photo by Randy Pace


In a matter of months, the coronavirus pandemic has rearranged the lives of children and families around the world.  It has wiped away many ordinary routines, stranding us in strange new landscapes. Navigating this uncharted territory has parents wondering how to manage their children’s fears about returning to school in a way that is reassuring, truthful and sets the emotional tone. Let’s face it, the question of returning to work and school is a growing topic in newspapers, around dinner tables and in the minds of students and parents. Districts have undoubtedly learned a lot over the spring as they constructed remote learning plans, improved student online access and developed meal plan support for families.  It is indeed a paradigm shift that may leave deep impressions on public education for years to come. 

This generation of students is depending on us to get it right. As policymakers and education leaders work tirelessly for the academic reopening, they are moving from response mode to proactive reality while tackling the challenge of necessary precautions and procedures.  The school district’s top priority is to ensure the development of a comprehensive reopening plan with adequate resources ready for their most vulnerable students. Schools will need to consider students’ social and emotional needs— some are going through significant trauma, having lost friends and family members or experienced insecurity after their parents have lost jobs. There will be varying needs, and schools must identify the most effective ways of responding. 

With the start of school, many parents are concerned about how the schools will reopen. To gather meaningful feedback, a comprehensive survey was disseminated to parents, employees, community stakeholders, administrators and medical professionals.  Also, department leaders formed a task force for increased safety procedures and the formulation of a district’s restart plan. School districts are working towards implementing several scenarios. 

Enhanced Tradition Plan– With the Traditional Plan school continues as normal with enhanced safety precautions in place such as hand sanitizer, increased frequency of cleaning high-touch areas, limited visitation to campuses, etc., to possibly prevent the transition to a hybrid or full distance learning option.  

Hybrid Plan– Hybrid would be a combination of distance and face-to-face instruction with increased safety and disinfecting measures as listed above which could be done in a variety of configurations.  However, this plan poses the question of working parents with younger kids and the challenge involved in keeping their children at home and in a learning environment.

Online Learning– This blended option requires access to technology, preferably in the home.  Online learning works best for middle and high school teachers and students who like non-traditional ways to learn. This component requires discipline on the part of your child.  Online learning has less handholding. Online learning redesigns assessments by encouraging research and original thinking instead of straight memorization; it answers “what’s in it for me” questions by building intentional learning experiences and getting straight to the point. The learning schedule is blended with synchronous and asynchronous classes. The biggest concern with digital learning revolves around the digital divide.  All you need to do is talk to two teachers– one from a well-funded school district and another from a poor one– to see the digital divide at work.  This issue will appear at every level of education whether it is something as simple as needing a webcam or something more critical like Internet access and a computer.  This issue is most pronounced at K-12. Although not new, the digital divide is magnified by the COVD-19 pandemic and the need for new learning solutions.  

Full Distance Learning Plan– Distance Learning typically works best with older students who have consistent technology access at home or in a dorm and will work responsibly on their own.  All students participate in learning new material and continuing standard pacing with interactive lessons, graded assignments and assessments. Distance education, also called “remote learning,” will look different depending on your child’s age and instructor. It provides little to no interaction between teachers and students. However, students rely on digital forms of communication such as messaging apps, video calls, discussion boards and your school’s learning management system (LMS). This method delivers instruction solely online. Distance learning makes it difficult for teachers to keep tabs on whether your student is working and can also result in unintended non-educational screen time.  After all, instructors are not physically present to check what your child has up on the screen as they would in a classroom.  At the end of the day, online learning and distance learning each have a place in education. Planning and preparation in both types of learning will yield the greatest results.

Everybody from the classroom to the state and federal level is forced to think about how schools can deliver higher-quality and more equitable instructional resources cost-effectively.  It is hard to predict what that will look like, but there is certainly a lot of incentive to innovate right now and to do it in a way that saves money.  Your most important task as a parent is to be a supportive, loving and stable presence for your child. None of this is easy, but it helps to stay focused on what is possible to reassure your child that they are okay, and that the situation will get better soon.  Kids who find stability in the fact that adults are taking care of the problems seem to react less and resolve more.  They resolve to solve problems, remain flexible and be compassionate as we all work through the adjustments.    

Parents and guardians are also strongly encouraged to frequently visit the school’s webpage and social media for updated information.  Keep in mind, however, that there may be misleading rumors being disseminated which could cause unnecessary confusion.  We must understand there is virtually no way to please everyone as the best decisions are being made on your child’s behalf.  The top priority is to keep everyone safe while not making life more difficult for parents and guardians. Each family situation is unique.  Stay in touch with your child’s teachers and other educators in their lives.  Thank them for what they are doing because they are working incredibly hard. And finally, emphasize with your child that school changes are temporary, and for a good reason– to help keep people from getting sick.  Even when you are anxious about the future, explain to your children that your family will get through this!

This article appears in the July 2020 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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