‘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. 

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 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. 

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Continue reading “The Working Parent’s School Closure Survival Guide”