Back to School During COVID-19: Tips From AFN
We are living in a time of great uncertainty and at the forefront of parent’s minds across America is the question of what school will look like for their children during a worldwide pandemic. Some communities are beginning to reintroduce students and there is a hot debate on how best to go about it.
The CDC still recommends virtual teaching and classrooms as much as possible. The next best thing is small groups with one teacher that doesn’t alternate between groups. Students remain spaced 6 feet apart and do not share communal objects.
Schools should create policies that promote any student or teacher staying home when feeling unwell with no penalty. Face coverings and hand washing are to be enforced whenever possible. Schools must also have disinfection procedures and ensure proper ventilation at all times.
After the CDC guidelines were published, a USA Today poll showed 59% of parents said they were likely to pursue at home learning for their children if the schools were to reopen. About 7 in 10 felt their child would struggle with social distancing at school. 1 in 5 teachers said they would likely not return in the Fall. Two thirds of teachers have said they have been unable to perform their jobs properly since the outbreak of the pandemic.
COVID-19 has affected every facet of our lives and one disruption which may have long lasting repercussions is its effect on the education system. In the same USA Today poll 76% of teachers claim their students are falling behind due to distance learning. Lower income families are more likely to have difficulties accessing the technology required for distance learning. A significant percentage of parents feel that they will not return their child to school until there is a widespread vaccine. Some estimates say a vaccine may take more than a year to develop, this raises many questions about what education will look like going forward for this generation.
One of the ideas being floated around is part of the week distance learning and part of the week in the classroom. This would help schools to manage the distance quotas and enable students to study in smaller groups. Teachers in a high risk category would be able to remain teaching online only.
Many children will likely struggle catching up and the blended learning model will only complicate this. Children are also dealing with the stress of the crisis, the lack of routine and rapid changes in their lives. Each child handles it differently. It is very likely to effect academic performance. Parents can help by creating a supportive and nurturing environment and to promote routines that surround schoolwork but also allow for playful learning.
Teachers will need to be prepared for the extra need for support some of their students may need upon return. Not only academically, but also emotionally.
Many children will have had negative or even traumatic experiences during quarantine.
Especially children who come from troubled homes. This is amplified by the fact that parents are also under extreme emotional and financial stress during this time. Some may have felt financial stress, or distress from being separated from important figures in their lives such as grandparents.
Some may have had family members or friends who were unwell or hospitalized. Children may have been facing domestic violence, abuse neglect, caring for other family members, hunger or lack of necessities or insufficient housing. This is of course worsened in low income environments. This can easily create a difficult environment for a child and upon reintroduction to school they may need extra care to promote their well-being and success.
It hasn’t been listed in the CDC Considerations for Schools or UNICEF manuals, but there is a need for extra mental health support for children coming back to school. In some ways, rejoining the old routine that is the same but also so different in so many ways can be more distressing than the initial shut down.
A survey from Young Minds showed that 80% of young people with a preexisting mental health issue felt their condition worsen during the first weeks of coronavirus. Many did not have access to their regular therapies or treatments.
It will be a key challenge that schools will face and there will be a need to provide additional emotional support as well as additional academic support. It is a long road to recovery and education is just another area where we will be healing slowly for some time.