BY ANDREW CAMPANELLA
February 2, 2021
Click here to read at NY Metro Parents
Right now, getting through each school day still feels exhausting for many parents and students in New York City and across the country who are decidedly “over” the continued uncertainty surrounding their children’s education. Switching between emergency remote learning, to in-person instruction, to hybrid learning models is chaotic. Not surprisingly, NYC homeschooling enrollment numbers have seen a 31-percent increase this school year.
The toll of learning disruption is not only emotional; it is financial. Mothers are leaving the workforce in record numbers to help their children navigate their schooling.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that K-12 schools work quickly to safely reopen, and New York City’s Department of Education is making steps in that direction. But the timeline remains unclear. With some U.S. school districts already committed to remote learning for the remainder of the school year, and with rumors flying about even more worrisome strains of the coronavirus, parents are wondering whether schools will even reopen for the start of the 2021-2022 school year.
How to Ensure Your Child Isn’t Falling Behind at School This Year
Looming large over these worries is a big question: Exactly how much learning did students miss out on this year? If New York suspends state standardized testing for another year in a row—as state education officials recently proposed—many families might never know the answer to this question.
Instead of just worrying about how far behind students may be after an unusual year of school, there are practical things parents can do to regain control over their children’s education this year and ensure they stay on track. Creating a “learning backup plan” is not expensive, and it can save your child the frustration of starting the 2021-2022 school year behind on his or her learning.
What is a “learning backup plan”? It’s four steps parents can take over the next 6 months to eliminate some of the uncertainty surrounding their children’s education and arm themselves with as much information as possible.
Evaluate How Your Child Is Doing This Year in School
Parents should continue to closely monitor whether their children are truly engaging in remote learning. Touching base with teachers and having frank discussions about your child’s progress is key. To start with, ask your child’s teacher the following questions:
- Have you noticed any changes in my child’s behavior since the start of the school year?
- What type of remote learning assignments does my child seem to enjoy the most or get the most excited about?
- Are there any topics or assignments my child seems frustrated by or struggles with?
Of course, don’t just focus on learning and achievement; think about your child’s happiness and well-being, too. If your child is struggling with remote learning, consider bringing other students together by creating a socially-distanced learning support pod. To augment your child’s in-school learning, tap into some fun online courses and educational games that are designed to help students acquire skills and knowledge.
Encourage Your Child to Pursue Hobbies
Parents can and should actively encourage their children to pursue healthy interests outside of school. Work with your children to explore things that spark their curiosity. Curiosity is recognized by psychologists as a key building block to lifelong learning. Besides helping your child develop new skills and a spirit of perpetual learning, tapping into hobbies can reduce the anxiety or stress your child may be experiencing due to school disruptions. So, whether your child is interested in collecting rocks and learning about geology, discovering the stars and learning about astronomy, learning how to build things or take them apart, or anything else, now is the time to encourage your child’s after-school hobbies.
Explore Your Child’s School Choice Options
If you feel that your child’s school isn’t the right fit for them anymore, take some time this winter to explore your school choice options, in case you want to switch schools for next year. The New York metro area offers more schooling choices than families immediately realize, including public, charter, magnet, online, private, and home education, as well as scholarship opportunities for low-income families.
It will be difficult to switch schools in the middle of the year, but it’s not impossible. Finding a different environment for the next school year, however, is much more realistic. The key to navigating the school search process is to start looking now–not wait until this summer. See if you can set up 1-on-1 video chats with the school’s admissions department, watch virtual open houses, and some schools might even offer 1-on-1 in-person tours following strict COVID-19 safety guidelines. When you tour potential schools (whether online or in person), make sure to ask questions about how the school is handling the pandemic, how it ensures students are successful, and more to see if the school environment will truly meet your child’s educational needs.
In June, Assess How the Current School Year Went
Finally, set aside a few days after schools close for the summer to truly evaluate how much your child has learned this year. Your goal should be to identify whether your child has learned at grade level or is falling behind at school. There are free assessments that parents can use to help determine this. For less than $50 and a more complete picture of your children’s progress, you can access the online Stanford Ten tests or the booklet-based Terranova tests. Nobody enjoys standardized tests, but this information could be crucial to ensuring your child is set up for success this fall. Unlike state tests, only you will know your child’s scores.
Beyond assessment tests, evaluating your child’s learning should include thinking about your personal goals for your child. What are your hopes and dreams for your child’s development and are those being attained? While test metrics matter, what matters even more is your insider knowledge about whether your child is on the path to the future you hope him or her to have.
Most importantly, all parents should recognize that they are not alone. Every family in the U.S. has faced unprecedented struggles this year. So, take a moment to reflect on all you’ve done to help your children this year, recognize the sacrifices made by your child’s teachers, give your kids some big hugs, and plan for some down time this summer. Someday, hopefully soon, things will get back to “normal”. And with the right planning, families can make the transition back to “normal” as easy as possible for their kids.