‘Schooling from home’ impacts reveal need for in-classroom schooling

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

As many of us emerge from our pandemic cocoons, sinking into summer schedules that no longer include the daily battles dubbed “virtual learning,” it is tempting to shut the door on the past few months and try to forget them. It would be easy to allow the dull heat to erase the emotional turmoil that accompanied the chaotic springtime shift to social distancing and schooling from home. Especially with all the important social changes being discussed right now, it’s tempting to rely on “someone else” to sort out what will happen with schooling in the fall.

It’s tempting, but it’s also dangerous. Taxpayer dollars directly fund the state education systems that we, as a society, rely on to turn out educated, adjusted, productive citizens. Therefore, as tax payers, we need to make ourselves heard regarding our preferences. 

The lessons learned from our national experiment of virtual schooling from home need to be examined closely before we make any decisions about what is to happen to our children’s education in the fall. Already some public school districts are rolling out plans that severely limit students’ ability to receive in-school education for the rest of this calendar year. But where is the public dialogue that is informing these decisions? Are we critically questioning the data on which these decisions are based? 

We’ve become a nation fascinated by infection rate and mortality statistics, and seem content to let these data sets, flawed as they may be, drive all other policies. Where are the statistics on the impact of “schooling from home” on: 

Students’ educational achievements? 

An NWEA working paper acknowledges that there is little data as yet, but that projections indicate students are likely to have only met two-thirds of expected progress in reading and less than half of expected progress in math as a result of school closures.

Students’ physical and emotional well-being?

Again, calls for research abound but meaningful data is still scarce. A United Nations policy paper reported, “Lockdowns and shelter in place measures come with heightened risk of children witnessing or suffering violence and abuse… . Children’s reliance on online platforms for distance learning has also increased their risk of exposure to inappropriate content and online predators.” 

Additionally, a survey conducted by a British charity supporting mental health for children and youth reported that 83 percent of respondents felt the pandemic had made their pre-existing mental health conditions worse. 

How virtual schooling impacts the disparities between affluent and not-affluent communities? 

A June New York Times article reports on a study conducted by Brown and Harvard Universities that revealed “student progress in math decreased by about half in classrooms located in low-income ZIP codes, by a third in classrooms in middle-income ZIP codes and not at all in classrooms in high-income ZIP codes.”

Parents’ (and especially mothers’) ability to work?

RAND published insights on the U.S. populations group suffering most from the closure of schools and child care, based on data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Current Population Surveys, including that approximately 75 percent of U.S. households have children under 14, and up to 26 million families had no access to in-home child care during the pandemic.

The New York Times took a closer look at the impact on working mothers, highlighting that experts are predicting mothers are “more likely to lose a job and more likely to shoulder the load of closed schools and day care. For many working mothers, the gradual reopening won’t solve their problems, but compound them — forcing them out of the labor force or into part-time jobs while increasing their responsibilities at home. The impact could last a lifetime, reducing their earning potential and work opportunities.”

This article raised troubling questions for me about educator well-being, especially when the teachers expected to conduct virtual classrooms are also parents of younger kids. I’ve watched several friends struggle through this challenge since March, and was therefore disappointed that I could find no research or reporting on this segment of the U.S. workforce on whom so many of us have been depending for so much. 

As a result, I wanted to begin the dialogue on the importance of resuming in-person schooling locally by recognizing the incredible efforts our child’s teachers exerted during the pandemic. To that end, I waited until after the academic year was over and grades submitted, then sent letters to both of our son’s teachers thanking them for their resilience, dedication to their students, and caring. I also sent a letter to the school principal, emphasizing the excellence of the teachers’ performances and also stating my hope that school will resume in the fall. I’m happy to share copies of these letters with anyone who would like to use them. Just let me know in the comments. 

I know others who have written to their local legislators and state officials, and I would be grateful if they felt like sharing their experiences in the comments. I plan to do that too, and also to engage with my congressional representative on this issue. The more widely each of us reaches out, the more respectful dialogue we can promote, the more likely we are to come up with a solution that will serve our children as well as our society. 

Re-imagining The Space Between

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Photo by Maria Oswalt on Unsplash

Pandemic rules repeatedly remind me that space is a relative concept. Even when lines have been painted on the floor, to some people six feet apparently looks more like six inches, while to others it appears closer to 60 feet. The measurement is not to blame. Humans seem to have always had a need to define their spaces, and as long as that need has existed, each human being has approached space with his or her unique understanding of what it is, how it should be, and how long they want to stay there.

When I first started this blog, my mental space was very different than it is today. I was stuck in the middle of a transfer from career professional to freelancer, and from one continent to another. I was working from home, with a baby and taking those first daring to steps toward becoming a writer. I was desperate to connect with other people who found themselves in similar situations.

I was incredibly lucky to meet Julie Patton, who could not only empathize, but was willing to take a little risk with me by writing about our experiences trying to find sanity in the spaces between, and stick it online. It felt bold and daring, sharing our thoughts with anyone on the web who would read them. We celebrated each new subscriber (yes, You!) and each new idea that allowed us to vent about something that had been driving us just a little bit crazier than we were to begin with.

However, the space Julie and I created here has begun to feel very small in light of all that has been happening in the world lately. Between pandemics and racially-motivated killings, blatant political corruption, and environmental peril, it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm to write about tips to mitigate PTO drama, or how to use that drama to create realistic antagonists.

Recently, nothing that I felt comfortable writing about seemed worth writing. I’ve been considering whether to thank you all for your support and put this time toward some other endeavor. My farewell post is half-written, and as this afternoon I was fairly certain that today was the day it was going online.

As I stood in the shower trying to resign myself to closing out this fun experiment, I realized that my problem isn’t that I’m lacking for things to say. The problem is finding the courage to say the things that I feel need to be said.

I’m refocusing The Space Between. I want this to be a space to promote the risky, tricky, beautiful process of transformation. I want it to speak to all the spaces we find ourselves between these days.

I was listening to Unlocking Us with Brene´ Brown earlier, in which she interviews Glennon Doyle on her latest book Untamed. In the interview, Glennon tells the story she uses to open the book, that of a cheetah she and her family saw in a show at a zoo. The cheetah performs for the crowd, gets rewarded and is returned to her enclosure, where her entire demeanor changes. Although the cheetah was born in captivity, there is something wild about the feline form pacing the fence line. It’s as if there is some deep instinct within her that recognizes that there is more to the world than she has ever seen, and she yearns for that space.

Hearing Glennon tell her cheetah metaphor brought two things to mind. The first was the perspective-shifting poem from Leslie Dwight that stopped me in my mental tracks the first time I read it.

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Scheduling Summer in the Space Between

Making time for creativity and your kids in the wake of COVID-19

Photo by Cassidy Kelley on Unsplash

Usually at this time of year, The Space Between would be focused on providing helpful articles on how to set up summer schedules to prevent the infamous “summer slide” without an over-reliance on screens.  Or how to select summer camps to optimize enrichment opportunities and to get everyone out of the house so that writers can write. 

Thanks to COVID-19, the jury’s still out on summer camp here in New York. We’re schooling from home for another few weeks, but with summer looming on this Memorial Day weekend, and most of the country in some phase between lock-down and “next normal,” what should we be doing as parents to prepare our kids for summer? As creatives, how in the midst of this uncertainty, do we provide for the time we need to work on our craft? 

Furthermore, how are we supposed to manage any of it when the ability to set and stick to a schedule has changed week-by-week, and sometimes day-by-day, for the past two months? 

There are two schools of thought on this. Those who love structure (hello, Plotters!) schedule your kids’ time and your writing time. It’s all on the calendar (virtual, plannered, or both), and the calendar rules! No excuses. The Muse comes when She comes, but she’ll know where to find you better if you make yourself regularly available. And your kids will thrive when there’s a set routine.

The other way of thinking, which I’ve advocated before, is that there are seasons to parenting and writing, and it’s best to go with the flow (Camp Pantser). If your family needs you more right now, or your mental and emotional exhaustion has your well running dry, then take the time that you need to take care of yourself. And to take care of your kids, who are dealing with all the changes keeping us all off balance, but with less life experience to help them find their center. Find ways to replenish. Give yourself some grace. Live to write another day and be gentle with yourself, and the small humans in your care, in the meantime.  

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The Janus Syndrome of Social Connectivity

Hard question to help you stay sane during a virtual pandemic

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Social media has redefined how the world manages life during a pandemic. For the vast majority of us, it isn’t that our worlds have stopped so much as they’ve taken a hard shift to the virtual. Many of us continue to work, shop, and even socialize at near our usual rates – just online. The explosion of social media into our lives has bloomed as fast as COVID-19 infection rates in NYC. And like the virus itself, it’s been hard to identify exactly where it would next spiral out of control.

Thanks to Google Classroom and Drive, Microsoft Teams, Blackboard, and Zoom (among numerous other platforms) our kids continue with their educations and can now even take tours of zoos, museums, and aquariums – not to mention do yoga, draw with Mo Willems, and engage in story hours or book groups. 

We’re so grateful to teachers who are going above and beyond to teach our children from a distance, or at least keep them occupied for a half hour, especially while we’re burning out in our own multi-hour Zoom meetings and virtual seminars.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The silver lining of COVID-19 is the opportunity to reconnect with old friends, develop new facets of connection with members of our communities, and take advantage of this “slow” time to do a little online learning or personal improvement. As a result, my evenings are more scheduled now than at any other point in 2020. 

I’m truly grateful for these unanticipated positives. Even as video chats cause me to closely consider which parts of my house make for a suitable background, not to mention blow my ability to covertly multitask (and force me to evaluate my quarantine fashion choices). 

Our pre-pandemic social media consumption habits act like pre-existing conditions, making those of us previously plugged into Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (and others) more likely to succumb to pandemic click-bait: everything from how to make your own mask, school from home, keep your family’s morale up, and avoid weight gain while you’re quarantined. As the virus spread, so have recycled news stories on infection rates, fatality statistics, quarantine dates, “expert” analysis of medical trends, and heart-rending accounts and/or horror stories from the pandemic’s front lines. The urge to read just one more article at bedtime is a symptom I have to treat every night in order to fall asleep.

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The Power of Revision, On and Off the Page

The opportunity COVID-19 offers us

Photo by Natalia Figueredo on Unsplash

As a writer, I know about the power of revisions. I’d like to believe that every first draft is gold, or at least good, or good enough, but experience has taught me otherwise. A first draft is a starting point, an attempt to craft characters, scenarios, and worlds that create the story I want to tell. 

When I’m done drafting, I read through what resulted from my efforts to translate what’s in my head and heart on to the page – and I’m almost always surprised by the gaps between my expectations and what actually is

Enter the revisions. 

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Some writers approach revisions with a sense of despair or trepidation, but for me they’re a real world chance at redemption. That sentence that came out wrong? Strike it – it never existed. That horrible scene I made? Weave it into the narrative another way, so it becomes a transcendent moment. The protagonist whose actions completely contradict the statements s/he’s making? Rework that character until all aspects of their existence are in alignment. 

Revisions, like the original writing, have a range of qualities directly proportional to the effort invested. A quick read-through lends itself to fixing typos, which may prevent some obvious misunderstandings. Meaningful revisions, however, require more. In fact, to make your story what you want it to be – what you imagined it already was – you need to do three things: 

1 – Closely interrogate the script to identify internal inconsistences.

 Stories, like life, are guided by values and rules. Sometimes these change as a result of specific events, or in response to gradual shifts in character or circumstance. Make sure that the rules and values of your story aren’t just tossed recklessly aside when they create an inconvenient result in your plotline. Trust is built on consistency, and is necessary to ensure your audience is along for the whole ride. 

2 – Take a hard look at character to ensure it’s authentic. 

Character is what people (readers) invest in, so you’d best make sure yours is unimpeachable. If, for example, your character claims to be one thing but is acting in a way that is inconsistent with the claim, it needs to be clear to the reader why that is. You can cook up the kookiest plot, and most folks will shrug and nod with a, “I’ve heard stranger. This one time….” But when your character acts in a way that doesn’t make sense, you can bet that everyone notices and they’re going to want an explanation. So if you’ve got character issues, fix them. Fix them now.

3 – A period of time away from the story.

When your brain is still caught up in the plot, you aren’t going to be able to do either of the previous steps effectively. Your mind will default to what it thinks is there instead of what actually is. Only through distance, and a little forgetting, can we clearly evaluate the story on its actual merits. Is the main character authentic and relatable? Does the plot follow its own internal logic and values? If not, why not? How can we fix it? Time gives your brain the distance it needs to see clearly, and then to begin to work on the solutions.

Photo by Simon Zhu on Unsplash

Here’s where life imitates art. This strange period of isolation and slow-down that we’re all experiencing – this is your time away from your story. It’s been long enough that we’re starting to forget the minutiae of our lives a month ago, which means we can begin to evaluate how we’ve been living our lives. Have our actions been consistent with our values? Have we been authentic in our relationships with those closest to us? Are we living the story we thought we were living? If not, why not? How do we fix it?

Not only does sheltering in place give us the opportunity to review our personal narratives, the fact that COVID-19 has stopped most of the world in its tracks at approximately the same time gives us an unprecedented chance to conduct evaluations at every level of human social function: personal, familial, communal, national, international, global. Do our practices and policies as a community or a country represent our values? Do our systems function according to logic and rules that are applied consistently, and are they achieving the goals we have created them to achieve? If not, why not? What changes can we make, as individuals, groups, and/or members of society, to correct the character flaws and internal inconsistencies?

There is no doubt that the hard pause this pandemic has caused our world will have long-standing, deleterious effects. However, the results don’t have to be only negative. We have the chance to use this time for reflection, to make sure the lives we’re living match the stories to which we aspire.

Here’s our opportunity to make revisions.

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Check Your Fear

Using positivity, compassion, and creativity to stay human during a pandemic

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

In the early days of the U.S. reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, when the concepts of teleworking and schooling from home were still novel, I was amazed by the creative ways in which I saw communities coming together despite the requirements to stay six feet apart. As I wrote about for Homeschooling on the Hudson, I’ve been truly impressed by random acts of kindness neighbors have been practicing. Thanks to social media, the impacts of those actions are magnified, rippling through virtual communities, encouraging others to actions of their own. The creativity and kindness that spilled from human wellsprings across my physical and virtual communities has been nothing short of motivational. I hope you’ve experienced this too!

Now we’re a couple of weeks in, the sheen of our still-new pandemic routines is tarnished, worn by the strain of managing kids and careers, or sheered off by pink slips and bankruptcies. Trying to figure out a way ahead when the only thing in abundant supply is information gaps has the nation treading water. More and more people we know are struggling to keep their heads up – and the fact that there is no clear view of the shore has left many of us deeply afraid. 

Fear is a tricky emotion. We’re taught early that “there’s nothing to be afraid of.” Our kid fears are “only in our imaginations.” Fears are supposed to melt by the light of day and the opening of the closet. The strong among us are supposed to laugh in the face of fear, if they even perceive fear at all. But persistent fear can actually severely disrupt our health, as this 2017 article in the American Journal of Managed Care lays out. Fear and anxiety are also powerful wreckers of mental processing, according the University of Minnesota. 

https://blogs.chapman.edu/wilkinson/2018/10/16/americas-top-fears-2018/

Looking at the 2018 Chapman study on the most prevalent fears in America, it’s not surprising that the COVID pandemic has triggered so many of us: half of the top 10 fears most Americans share are currently at play. Plus, this pandemic impacts all of America in a way little has since the days of mutual assured destruction of the good ‘ole Cold War. Then we had a common enemy to rally against, a tangible foe whom we sought to out-produce, out-patriotism, and out-spend. Today, by contrast, we’re being told to hunker in our homes and await further instruction, which feels more like the nation’s longest duck and cover drill rather than progress. 

Given the circumstances, it’s understandable that people are starting to get snippy. Unfortunately, online forums are tempting outlets for many who feel empowered to type the sorts of comments they’d never make to another human face-to-face. Jesse Fox, Ph.D. explains in Psychology Today the variety of reasons underlying this behavior, including the spiral of silence theory, which essentially boils down to people who perceive themselves in the majority will bully those they perceive as in the minority. 

“The spiral of silence theory suggests that when people think they are in the majority in a certain setting, they will more freely express their opinion than those who see themselves as in the minority, and may fear social ostracism if they express an unpopular opinion.” 

Jesse Fox, Ph.D., Psychology Today 
Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Combine the deep-running fears and social distancing that are tied to COVID-19, and you’ve got a potentially toxic result for our online groups, which in some cases spill over into our geographic, communities. Those same forums where people were trying to support each other through these tough times are also now host to virtual finger-pointing and division. Unfortunately, as we all win from random acts of kindness, we all lose from virtual battles, which further people’s anxiety, fear, and sense of isolation. 

“Us versus Them” silos are fearful, closed, hurting and hurtful, paralyzing, negative, and ultimately extremely dangerous to the health -and ultimate survival….”

Duena Blomstrom, Forbes 

While I’m no social scientist, I’ve had some practical training in human psychology, and I’ve lived through my share of high-stress situations. My observations from these experiences are that when our fear is high, some people instinctually revert to an ‘us versus them’ mentality in an effort to order their universe and attempt to gain some control. ‘Them’ becomes the antithesis of all the good that ‘us’ seeks to preserve. By reducing our worldview to two camps, we remove space for middle ground, or creative problem-solving. There is no room for compassion, or for understanding that while ‘us’ suffers, ‘them’ may also be suffering. As Duena Blomstrom put in a Forbes article from 2019, “”Us versus Them” silos are fearful, closed, hurting and hurtful, paralyzing, negative, and ultimately extremely dangerous to the health -and ultimate survival….”

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Are You Thankful?

Honoring the heroes of the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Susan Silverman

I’m Grateful.

I’m grateful: to my child’s teachers in supplying daily, inventive ideas to keep her stimulated. Educators are invaluable to a developing child’s mind.

I’m grateful: to my client and bosses who reinforce that my health–and that of my family’s–is priority.

I’m grateful: to Essential Personnel like staff at grocery stores and pharmacies, letter carriers, and trash collectors who put their lives second to making sure we can all have previsions to live day to day.

I’m grateful: to my coworkers who check in with me daily to discuss issues of the day but more importantly to offer a laugh when we all need it.

I’m grateful: to Netflix, Disney+, YouTube, etc., for bringing more television programming than I ever knew possible. You are keeping my toddler immensely happy. (Although I would be happier if you would ban all videos of children playing with toys! Why is my kid so obsessed with that?!?!?!)

I’m grateful: to the news/media who are trying to uncover the truth and relay that information to the public. 

I’m grateful: to my state and local government leadership who recognize that they are the ones making the sometimes hard–but most definitely needed–decisions that effect my local community. 

Finally, I’m grateful: to everyone in the health field, from practitioners to data entry personnel, who are the front lines of this war. You are our heroes! You are those who we are looking to at this unknown and scary time. We–the citizens of the world–cannot survive without your knowledge, patience, care, understanding and expertise. 

Susan Silverman is a guest author on The Space Between who has written about the challenges of being a stay-at-home-mom overseas, and re-entering the workforce. Originally from upstate New York, Susan has bounced between the United Kingdom and Washington, DC for her studies and career, and is presently back in the DC metro area working as a consultant on global health engagement for the U.S. Department of Defense, where she’s been specifically assigned to a team dealing with the U.S. response to COVID-19. 

I don’t normally post mid-week, but unusual circumstances call for unusual measures. And anything that will help lift our spirits, I’m 100% for, so thank you, Susan, for helping us to focus on the positive at this difficult time. And thank you too, for the work that you’re doing to help our nation overcome the challenges of COVID-19!

–Thea

The Working Parent’s School Closure Survival Guide

Or how to stay sane in the face of COVID-19

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

It feels unreal. For most of us in the first world, there’s been nothing like this pandemic in our lives, and probably not in the lives of our parents.  We’ve gotten so busy, so connected, so smart (or at least our phones have), but in the process we’ve fallen out of touch with seasons, with communities, and with the power of Mother Nature. Germs, as it turns out, don’t care about our priorities (though they do love our smart phones, so wipe those down please). It’s unsettling. The panic in the grocery stores is downright disturbing. And to top it all off, now we’ve got to find a way to balance the competing demands to telework (maintain social distancing to flatten the curve!) AND to take care of your kids at home while schools are closed.

It’s a lot to take on, for sure. Now consider: If the grown ups are stressed, so are your kids. After all, kids thrive on routine and pretty much everything about their lives is being disrupted—activities, school, family patterns. 

Good news though! Freelancers face the work-from-home-while-balancing-the-kids issue regularly. It’s tricky, and every kid-parent dynamic is different, but let me share some hard-earned hacks I’ve gathered over the past few years, plus a few additional resources that are coming online in response to this horrible virus.

Routine Success

Like I said, kids love routine, so the best way to forge ahead is to develop a routine and stick to it.

Neuropsychology and Education Services for Children and Adolescents (NESCA) posted this great chart developed by Jessica McHale Photography. See those blocks for academic, creative, or chore time? Depending on the ages of your kids and their self-sufficiency, those are times that you can set the tasks to be done and then focus on your own work. For some, it might be possible to work during afternoon fresh air time too.

Now is the time to get real about how many hours you actually need to get your job done…without all the daily office rigmarole, you may find that you can accomplish your required tasks in fewer than 8 hours.

Parent Hack

If you’ve got some flexibility in the hours you work, you may also want to consider waking up early to get some hours in before the kids are up. I’m not a happy member of the 5 a.m. club, but I get loads of work done after my kid goes to bed, around 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. Now is the time to get real about how many hours you actually need to get your job done. For some, there will be scheduled hours that we are required online for virtual services. For others, without all the daily office rigmarole, you may find that you can accomplish your required tasks in fewer than 8 hours. The more hours you can squeeze into non-kid time, the easier this will be for you all. 

What to do with ‘academic time’

One thing I love about this chart is that it sticks to a schedule that should be familiar to pretty much any school-age kid. The question many parents are facing is what/how to teach them from home, especially if you’re trying to do your own work too. If you’re lucky, your kids’ teachers provided some take home work before the schools were closed, or the schools are rolling out online platforms to enable kids to stay engaged with their curriculum. At which point, roll out those worksheets or reading pages or online lessons until they run dry. 

If you weren’t so lucky, or the materials aren’t going to stretch for the whole time, consider adding in some commercial learning books. These not only will keep the kids busy, but will make school re-entry that much less painful. Our son loves workbooks from Teacher Created Resources. Their books are tailored to grade levels and run pretty true to level, in our experience. In addition to the TCR site, you can order workbooks through many online distributors, such as Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com. 

https://www.reddit.com/r/gif/comments/2ihidb/how_libraries_move_shelves_of_books/
Continue reading “The Working Parent’s School Closure Survival Guide”