By Lisa Edwards, M.Ed., Parent Coach
Last spring, classrooms and hallways were left empty of the excited laughter of children. Many of our nations schools were shut down and millions of students were sent home to learn. As we look towards fall many parents, students and educators are wondering what will it look like? Students want to see friends. Teachers are tired of being connected to a computer all day. And parents want to get their kids out of the house! At this point, not many know what school will look like this fall. We need to be ready to adjust any carefully laid plans at any moment with the ebb and flow of COVID-19 cases in the nation or in your neighborhood.
Because of this, school will look different next year for everyone. There will be rare cases where students return to the classroom that they knew last March. Minnesota school officials are prepared to transition between all of the different options. What are the options for school next year, and how as a parent can I prepare? Before you pull your hair out wondering what it may be, let’s talk about what you can do to alleviate some of the stress that is about to come your way. We don’t have all of the answers, but here are some things you can do now to help make the transition easier.
The three options for public school
Traditional– This options will be as close to “normal” as possible, by bringing students onsite every day.
What to expect – Adjusted school calendars or varying start times. Increased safety precautions such as children eating in their classroom instead of the lunchroom to decrease exposure to others. Our state is even recommending additional temperature checks for all students before they are able to enter the building. Students may travel less in-between classes, or not be able to gather in large groups in the middle or high schools.
Benefits – Children will be able to socially interact with peers and will have face to face interaction with teachers. Your child may have struggled with distance learning, so now they are able to return to a setting where they are able to thrive.
Challenges – Although they may feel like they are going back to “normal” school, many states and districts will look quite different. It will still take additional time for teachers, families and students to transition. This is probably the one option that will change at a moment’s notice. If a staff member or child is tested positive, it could cause school to shut down for an indeterminate amount of time with short notice for parents to adjust and find childcare.
Hybrid – classes in which some of the traditional face to face time has been replaced with distance learning. In essence, a mix of traditional & distance learning.
What to expect – Expect everything. This option could have so many variations. Some schools are trying to have a rotation in which half of the students are on site one day and the other half come the next day. Some schools will have shortened days. If you have more than one child, you may have one going one day and the other the next day.
Benefits – Children will be in smaller classes and have less exposure to other students. Your child will also have more individualized attention from the teachers.
Challenges – Until your school tells you the exact plan, you will have to wait to find out which days your child will go to school. If you are a planner like me, this solution is the hardest because you just don’t know. During hybrid, there will still be strict social distancing and health rules which also will make school look different
Distance Learning – In this option, students stay at home and teachers either provide materials online, or packets are handed out for learning.
What to expect – If you experienced distance learning in the spring, distance learning this fall will look similar, but hopefully schools have been doing more with preparation and staff development for teachers so it should be more organized and will hopefully flow better for the students.
Benefits – Definitely the option with the least exposure for children. Some have found this option to be better for their child because it allows for more flexibility for their family. It also will be more consistent for families than the other options which allows the “planners” to be able to create a plan that works best for my children.
Challenges – Some students really struggled without the interaction daily from a teacher. This is definitely a different way of learning and children need to be motivated and independent to continue their learning. Parents also struggled with being the “teacher” for their child.
What Can I do to Prepare for the Return to School this Year
- Discuss options for your child. If your child is medically fragile or you are not comfortable with them attending school, now is the tie to look for distance learning options for your child. Ask your district if they will be providing that option even if they bring kids back on site.
- Prepare for friendships to be different. Friendships are constantly evolving at a young age and many factors influence how strong those friendships are. If children live in close proximity this lends to the fact that they can see each other more and possibly be hanging out more. Sports have been on hold so those friendships may look different as they used to spend hours together at practice or games, and now they may have gone a long time without seeing each other or talking. For some friendships it may just take time to warm up to one another again. Some may have faded and never come back.
- Increased separation anxiety. Children have been through trauma and they have been spending a lot of time together as a family. School will also not be what they are expecting. This could lead to more separation anxiety. There are many ways you can help your child work through this and prepare.
- Disrupted routines – My teenager has started staying up very late and sleeping for most of the day. As we move into the school year, we will need to start adjusting to new routines.
- Independence and Your Child as a Learner. Hopefully during distance learning there were opportunities for your child to become more independent. They may have even learned a few things about themselves as a learner and how they learn most optimally. These are keys to understanding themselves as an individual. Do not let them sink back into their old ways and lose that independence. Foster these new skills your child has learned.
- Focus on connections. No matter which way we return to school, connections will have to be a priority. Many schools will make an effort to focus on this. Help your child connect not only with their classroom teachers but with all adults in the school. This includes the counselors, principal, art teacher, music teacher, paraprofessionals, etc.
- Special Education. If your child receives services, don’t hesitate to have a meeting before school starts, once they have an idea of what it will look like for all students, then have a discussion on what it will look like for your child specifically. Contact your child’s case manager directly.
- Be a partner with the school. Distance learning brought a lot of frustrations for families as they tried to work from home, parent and teach their children. Because of this, families would voice frustration with the schools in front of their children. They are always learning and pick up on this. Stay positive in front of them and tell them that you will always partner with their key adults to do what is best for them. Every child needs to know that both parents and teachers are there to support them together as a team.
No matter what the school year ahead may bring, it will definitely be interesting, and you can probably expect changes throughout the year. The most important thing you can do for your child is to always remember to help them feel safe and secure. Pay attention to their mental health and always make that a priority.
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