When states across the country began issuing stay at home orders, school districts had no choice but to temporarily close their doors and begin the scramble to find a way to continue to educate their students from a distance through the end of the school year.
For some students, particularly homeschooled students and college students, learning virtually at least part of the time is completely normal. The educators providing this type of instruction have spent years training and developing their curriculum to be effective in a virtual learning environment. The students enrolled in these classes made a choice to learn virtually. The option of virtual learning is a choice homeschool families often make when they know they have the required resources and equipment as well as the family support they need to succeed.
This sudden transition to virtual education for millions of students across the country (in many countries, actually) left a huge learning gap for traditional educators and a resource and support gap for families. In many cases, teachers had just days to figure something out to fill the gap while their schools and districts made more concrete plans for the remainder of the spring term. Once longer-term plans were made, teachers, again, had just days to learn how to use the programs that were chosen and adapt or completely change their lesson plans.
Some districts have not been able to supply their students with the technology they need. Providing Chromebooks and tablets, however, does not necessarily guarantee access to WiFi and navigating the programs, especially for younger students, requires a lot of help from parents in terms of time and organization.
Several recent reports indicate that students in low income neighborhoods and rural communities are the least likely to be participating in online education. In some cases, according to the New York Times, “fewer than half of their students are regularly participating.” Many families have not been in communication with their children’s schools at all. Teachers and administrators are worried about these students most of all — they are often the third point in a communication triangle between families and social services for students living in less-than-ideal or dangerous situations.
No household has escaped the stress brought on by COVID-19. Many work situations have changed – some are out of work while others are working more, finances and childcare are inconsistent or nonexistent, and some families are facing severe illness and death. For many families, logging-on has dropped to the bottom of the priority list if it’s even on the list at all.
From the beginning of school closures, counselors were quick to share information regarding spotting the signs of stress and depression in kids. Combine the effects of stress and depression with the one thing pediatricians always warn parents about – too much technology – and some families have had to make the tough choice to temporarily abstain from logging-on in an effort to protect their children’s mental health.
The time to figure things out for both schools and parents for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year has come to an end. Some schools have been closed for eight weeks. Schools in some states end their spring terms as early as next week. Across the country, administrators are engaged in developing plans for the fall which is likely to look different from anything our children have experienced so far. If virtual learning is a part of that plan, access and equity will certainly be addressed and, hopefully, it will all be figured out with enough time for teachers and families to gather resources and make plans.
At iSprowt, education is our number one priority. Learn more about how iSprowt is working to increase equity in education with low-tech and no-tech activities and support families in these challenging times. If you are considering donating educational gifts for kids, so that children don’t fall behind, go to our Donate the Gift of STEM page.