"Catching Up” After Falling Behind in Schools during Covid

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The NYT highlighted what we all know and fear. The abrupt switch to online learning not only highlighted and widened racial and economic disparities. It also made students who were behind, or at risk of falling behind, experience extreme difficulties in making academic gains.

I’ve personally had families in my practice voice concerns. I’ve written letters, typed emails, asked for schools to accommodate 504 plans and IEP’s remotely. Some comfort exists in solidarity and that “We are all experiencing this together” so there should and must be room for understanding. I do believe schools will widely re-open in the fall, but I also know that “catching up” in the fall with regards to academics won’t be easy.

Students at an economic disadvantage have felt a crunch.

  • Some families don’t speak English as a primary language so it becomes difficult to help your child who’s homework is in English.
  • Some families don’t have a laptop or screen available for use of the child because it has to be shared amongst other family members.
  • Some don’t have a printer to print PDF pages of class work.
  • Other families may not have parents home to help their child because they have to work to bring in an income.

The crisis is far from over. Continuing fully or partly online may increase the high school dropout rates and younger children may miss out on incredibly important concepts that serve as the foundation of their learning. Even at a young age, you need to know the basic concepts before advancing to 1st grade. School education builds upon itself. Teachers are not able to teach everything they need to via remote learning, and students can’t be expected to ultimately pick up.

I’m also not oblivious to the difficulty of online classroom engagement for students. The NYT article points out that students may not be as engaged with the remote assignments since they are not receiving traditional grades, and some parents are not able to assist them with online schooling. It’s a difficult situation because students weren’t meant to learn some of these incredibly important concepts remotely. Racial divisions have only become wider for our children at a socioeconomic disadvantage. Some experts say children will have fallen behind by a third of the expected progress, and more for Hispanic and black populations.

The article states “There are several reasons low-income, black and Hispanic students appear to be suffering the most through the crisis. The Center on Reinventing Public Education, a think tank, will release an analysis next week of the pandemic learning policies of 477 school districts. It found that only a fifth have required live teaching over video, and that wealthy school districts were twice as likely to provide such teaching as low-income districts.”

Socially, teachers need to see their kids in the classroom-see their struggle, their achievements, and be able to turn attention to their weak areas or questions as needed. That becomes a very difficult task for a teacher logged in remotely.

Of course, there are many ways parents can continue to help their children, by creating a daily schedule.

  • Decide where everyone can do their work most effectively and without distractions.
  • List the times for learning, exercise and breaks.
    • For younger children, 20 minutes of class assignments followed by 10 minutes of physical activity might work well.
    • Older children and teens may be able to focus on assignments for longer stretches, taking breaks between subjects.
    • Include your hours as well, so your children know when the work day is done.
  • Schedule lunch breaks and afternoon breaks
  • Take your time: Start with shorter learning sessions and make them progressively longer. If the goal is to have a 30- or 45-minute session, start with 10 minutes and build up from there. Within a session, combine online or screen time with offline activities or exercises.
  • Contact teachers about educational online and offline activities your children should do. Preschool teachers may not have an online curriculum to share, but good options include PBS Kids, which is sending out newsletters with their shows and activity ideas.

Going forward, as parents, we MUST continue to advocate for our children. Staying in contact with the schools and advocating for our schools on a government level is crucial. School need to have fair budget to do their work in the fall, which includes preparing school buildings to meet new state and federal health guidelines like smaller class sizes, temperature checks and increased access to sinks, soap and sanitizers. If remote learning must occur, then it must thought-out with equal resources for all school districts.

As a pediatrician and parent, not only do I feel a duty to a child’s academic progress but also to their mental and emotional health. With the job crisis, many have found themselves out of work for longer than anticipated periods of time. This is the time support roles like tutors, counselors, and after school mentor programs need a surge. Students in need of social and emotional support need to know resources and outlets are there for them.

As parents, we have the ability to advocate for our children. While this pandemic was unprecedented, we are still not sure how a second wave will play out. If we continue to keep the school system the same, it may not only prevent us from making gains but also further widen economic gaps in our society.

Sources: HealthyChildren.org

Research Shows Students Falling Months Behind During Virus Disruptions

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