New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Saturday that New York City’s public schools – the largest district in the nation – “would close through the academic term.” This announcement came a month after the Coronavirus became widespread across the state of New York and across the country. School districts, teachers and parents now face new realities never imagined. Americans of all races, ages and social economic standings are asking: What happens to these children…..not just those in New York, but to the children across 20 states, including Washington, Michigan and Pennsylvania who according to Education Week magazine, will find out school has shut down for the rest of their school year. How will this interruption affect their learning? Will it cause major academic regression?
Waking up to this new distance learning reality does not fare equally for all students. Some, as the students in The Saklan School, in Moraga, California, who use Zoom to hold virtual Ukelele lessons with a music teacher and a flower dissection with a science teacher, will not mirror the experience as those who worry about the physical health of their families, family loss of income, interrupted routines and the difficulty of working, studying and teaching in cramped environments. Some students are without access to technology, must care for siblings, have limited English and face life and death situations as they shelter in place. These students now have added stressors without the physical support of their school environment.
Creating structure for pre-school, elementary, middle and high school students is an art that must be mastered quickly. Teachers are using video conferencing to reach out, see faces and offer encouragement, but as teachers, building the plane while flying gets harder with each day. As USA today states, “Even though nearly all American children have been home from school for almost a month, their experiences continue to be wildly divergent. Some districts pivoted immediately to online learning in mid-March. Others waited until this week to launch formal virtual learning plans. Some schools require work to be graded; others are telling teachers to give all students A’s.” How is mastery actually achieved in these types of situations?
Teachers and school districts across the nation are now embracing video conferencing as a viable option to meet their educational goals. Counseling, morning routines, tutoring sessions and classroom lessons are offered digitally, and some students are eagerly awaiting the invitation to join, yet many cannot enter the platform. Some districts are just not quite as prepared to tackle digital learning yet efforts are gallantly being made by teachers all across the country to attempt to meet the needs of their students. Canvas course lessons are being created, devices are provided to upper grade students and most younger students across America are receiving weekly work accompanied by video conferencing, phone calls and emails to parents.
“We know that online learning doesn’t alleviate or ameliorate gaps in opportunities – it exacerbates them”
No one has ever been in this situation before. The inequity in educational resources across America during Coronavirus is sure to affect the learning of disadvantaged children the greatest way. Poverty, lack of technology, instructional deficits and trauma from the spread of the virus continues to interfere with the daily learning that is longing to take place. Teachers face a moral dilemma to teach students in spite of lack, but while doing so, must nurture and meet emotional needs that were already present before the pandemic that now, are aggrandized. The fear most educators across our nation have is that regression will occur in all students, and sadly, will affect those needing to make the greatest educational gains the most. “We know that online learning doesn’t alleviate or ameliorate gaps in opportunities – it exacerbates them,” said Thomas Hatch, education professor at Teachers College at Columbia University. “We have not designed our schools to enable students to get caught up, ever. This is an opportunity to rethink what’s really necessary.”