Connections

New Year, New Challenges: Back-to-School Tips and Solutions

September 10, 2020
Teacher with Mask

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Staying Connected features the many ways you can keep-in-touch with loved ones during difficult times. From stories highlighting generosity to tips on staying connected, we’ll bring you expert advice, inspiration, and great ways to ensure you maintain contact with the people who mean the most to you. 

 2020 is shaping up to be a year unlike any other. This is especially true for parents and educators who face unprecedented challenges as children enter a new school year with COVID-19 on everyone’s minds. 

Whether your child will be attending school in-person or participating in virtual classes from home, teachers want to keep everyone safe while providing a sense of continuity. Read on for more information from educators about how to ensure your family’s success during this school year’s transition.

What Back-to-School Looks Like in 2020  

Teacher with Mask

When the Covid-19 shutdown began in March, many schools were proactive in their approach to preventing the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In some regions, spring break ran long and turned into summer break, while some schools transitioned to remote learning for the last few months of the school year.  

Parents and educators — like the rest of us — hoped for a speedy resolution to the outbreak. But as weeks turned into months, it became clear that the impact and reopenings would take longer. 

This raised many questions for what back-to-school would look like in the fall. Now, in September, most schools are back in session. In order to abide by social distancing guidelines issued by the Center for Disease Control, schools across the country have adopted the following three options. 

 In-Person Schooling 

Approaches to in-person schooling vary greatly across states and regions, but the majority of school districts are following social distancing guidelines by separating desks, requiring frequent handwashing, maskwearing, and temperature checks.  

 Some schools are also adopting the “cohorting” approach, where students stay in small groups with one designated teacher, so physical proximity within the classroom is reduced to small “pods” of people. Other efforts to reduce the spread of the virus include daily desk washing, socially distanced walking zones, and eating meals in classrooms.  

Returning to traditional in-person education has several advantages, namely the assurance that students will be able to receive a consistent education and not fall behind or struggle with virtual lessons and isolation from classmates. Schools also serve a greater social function in communities, providing food and resources for low-income families, and jobs for many community members.  

Of course, the risk of contracting COVID-19 is greater when people gather in enclosed spaces for any length of time. Though schools will make efforts to reduce the risk of spread, there is no guarantee of safety when attending any in-person gathering.  

 Remote Learning 

Most schools — regardless of whether they are offering in-person classes or not — are trying to provide a remote learning environment for families who want to avoid sending their children to physical classes. Many states are mandating that school districts offer both options.  

While this is beneficial for families, it puts a great deal of strain on teachers, who have to accommodate the needs of all of their students while also converting their lesson plans to be compatible with remote learning.  

Remote education is a great option for communities where infection rates are increased, where children might be more likely to spread or contract the virus if attending school in-person. But virtual classes come with their own set of challenges, namely for elementaryage students who struggle with distance learning, or for lower-income families who rely on lunch programs and other support services that may not be available for remote students.  

 Hybrid Teaching 

Some districts have opted for a hybrid approach, where physical contact is reduced by using e-learning platforms part of the week and returning to in-person schooling for the rest of the week. Alternate hybrid approaches may require students to attend remote classes at the beginning of the school year, with plans to return to in-person classes later in the year. 

While this approach has the benefit of being adaptable and scalable for each school district based on community needs, it also puts parents in a difficult position when attempting to work from home, potentially putting their jobs at risk if working from home is not an option.  

Teacher’s Perspectives on Pandemic Schooling  

It’s common knowledge that teachers are incredible people, used to making miracles happen every day on shoestring budgets, with little planning time, against insurmountable odds. But a global pandemic? That’s a new one even for the most seasoned educators.  

For Sarah K., an elementary school teacher in Arkansas, the pandemic threw her entire district into chaos. After teaching remotely for the last two months of the 2019-2020 school year, summer brought a fresh wave of anxiety and indecision. “We spent the majority of the summer in the dark, trying to create alternative lesson plans that could be utilized remotely while begging for updates about our contracts,” she said. We actually had to agree to contracts that we hadn’t even seen yet, inadvertently agreeing to teach both in-person and remotely for no extra pay. 

With the exorbitant fees required to break our contracts, Sarah K. said many teachers had no choice but to adapt. We want the best for our students, but working 60-hour weeks and trying to meet the needs of students and parents while also taking care of our own families has been a nightmare.” 

One common theme seems to be a lack of support for teachers, who often pay for upgraded features for their students out of their own pockets. “If I want to be able to teach effectively, I need the tools to do so,” said Renee D., a veteran math teacher from Wyoming with over 16 years of teaching experience. “I’ve had to pay for upgraded versions of remote learning tools and teach myself how to use these programs in my free time, without any reimbursements.  

Other teachers have had different experiences.  

Stacey R., a high school science teacher from Maryland, was fortunate to participate in community town halls and union negotiations that granted her district additional resources which helped with transitioning to a hybrid teaching approach. But even with a supportive community and district leaders, teaching looks very different during the pandemic. “My classes are normally very hands-on with students using a variety of materials and lab equipment,” she said. At this time, that’s not possible. Many of my students are using cell phones to access Google Classroom and Zoom, which can be challenging.   

Girl Working at Desk

 What Teachers Want Parents to Know  

 At the end of the day, parents and teachers have the same goal: ensuring the best education and development for their children while keeping everyone safe and healthy. Here are teacher-approved strategies to ensure a successful transition for your child. 

  •  Teach hygiene and etiquette.  Teach your children to wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. Encourage maskwearing and teach them about social distancing guidelines. This way, they can be comfortable and confident when at school or in public during the pandemic.
  • Provide age-appropriate education about the pandemic. Education about the COVID-19 pandemic should focus on sharing knowledge and good health practices, rather than fear. The CDC offers some excellent guidance on how to talk to your kids about the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • Establish a remote-learning routine. Just like in-person learning, remote learning is enhanced when children have clear expectations about the order of the day and what they will be expected to do. Start with a healthy breakfast, offer snacks and breaks, and coordinate with teachers so you and your child can establish a schedule that accommodates their classes along with your work schedule. 
  • Find time for socialization and play. Whether your child is learning from home or still attending in-person classes, they will notice some changes this year. Restrictions such as wearing a mask and not being able to hug their friends, or learning from home and being isolated, could take their toll on your child. Make sure you still arrange virtual play-dates or socially distanced family excursions to give them a chance to still be a kid. 
  • Communication is critical. Make sure  you and your child are communicating with your teacher, and update your contact information. Communication can often stop or mitigate issues. If the teacher doesn’t have the updated contact information,  they cannot reach you first. 

Back-to-School Gifts for Everyone 

Know a teacher or a student going back to school? From flowers to sweet treats, help them transition with an A+ gift that will make their day!