There is still a lot of uncertainty regarding what school will look like in the fall—in some states, we won’t know until right before the school year is supposed to start. I have seen a lot of districts update their continuity of learning plans this past April and May, but they tend to be broad strokes where communities need specific plans for the current environment. It’s easy to say we want to minimize loss of instruction, but how do we do that for students who don’t have internet or access to a device at home? How do we even identify those students?
We can do tech surveys or make phone calls, but there should be specific plans in place that could include distribution of non-digital curriculum, or maybe it means getting devices and hot spots to all those students. Obviously there is a significant difference in cost between these, and distribution creates its own set of problems. However, we have seen schools all across the country figure this out with meals these past few months, so we know it’s doable.
The other major piece that I’ve seen addressed in a lot of these plans is keeping our students’ mental, nutritional, and safety needs a top priority. Just talking with districts, this seems to be wearing on teachers and administrators alike. As I mentioned, I think most districts have figured out how to get their students meals, but mental health and safety is different. Students are not getting the support that they normally have from teachers and peers, yet they are still facing the same challenges at home. For some, being home can actually be worse, and there is still plenty of bullying going on through both social media and digital platforms provided by the school.
Again, we need to have specific plans in place that include regular check-ins—I think these should be part of the weekly attendance requirement. I’ve heard of many teachers who just haven’t heard from their students, even if they are turning in the assignments and doing their work. This is especially difficult for those who don’t have access to video calling and similar technology, but it is still our responsibility to make sure that they are well and give them the support they need. Whether this is done by a teacher or a counselor, job roles are going to have to be more flexible.
As important as it is to update continuity of learning plans, we now need to take the experience of the past few months and refine the process—this should be fluid and no ideas from staff should be ignored. We should all be prepared to be flexible in the fall and take on roles that haven’t been our responsibility in the past. Now more than ever, students need to know that they have support from their teachers and schools and that they still have the same opportunities as all of their classmates.