How will the Fall Unfold?

As we turn the corner of summer, there are still many unanswered questions about what the school experience will look like for everyone this fall. Districts and schools are laying out their plans, and, depending on grade level, institution, location, etc., fall plans can look quite different from one family to another. All plans are also contingent upon what happens in the next few weeks and months with regards to infection rates and state directives. Many parents are confused, stressed, and feeling a sense of helplessness when it comes to making the right decision about school placement for their children this fall. 


What has traditional school typically offered?


School is designed the way it is for a reason. It has traditionally played a major role in the development, health, and well-being of students (and parents too). It provides students with structure, instruction, socialization, and learning opportunities. Knowing the advantages of an in-person school environment allows us to be better informed. Should we need to make the choice or are mandated to follow a hybrid or virtual model, knowing the benefits allows us to consider how we could then supplement the home environment to encourage similar experiences:


Traditional School:


· Academic Factors

- Teachers provide live, real time, direct instruction to students and guide them through practice to achieve mastery

- Students receive immediate and corrective feedback to clear up any miscommunications, misunderstandings, and/or errors

- Opportunities for observational learning through working with peers and watching how others complete tasks and solve problems

- Multiple modes of learning are typically incorporated to allow for students to practice skills in different ways


· Social Factors

- By experiencing school and classroom behavioral expectations, students have the opportunity to develop a sense of social rules and norms

- Students have the opportunity to socially interact and develop friendships and relationships with peers that reach outside of the context of the classroom

- Developing help-seeking and self-advocacy skills through the interactions that occur during instruction and skills practice

- Working in small groups on assignments and projects or small study groups allow students to practice the soft skills necessary to communicate effectively, work in a team, resolve conflicts, and listen actively


· Other Factors

- The embedded structure and routine of the daily classroom experience teaches students how to be productive and allows them to practice fulfilling daily responsibilities

- Movement throughout classrooms and buildings, along with structured physical education and recess time, allows for a level of constructive physical activity daily

- Students develop executive function skills, such as goal setting, time management, multi-tasking, organization, problem solving, etc. by engaging in the curriculum and through teacher instruction


How does this relate to the fall?


For the majority of students attending school this fall, school will look like one of these three general models:


1) In-Person: Students go back to the school environment, potentially with strict social distancing protocols put in place

2) Virtual: Students will learn from home via technology

3) Hybrid: Elements of learning from home and in-person in school will be incorporate on some form of an alternating schedule


What education will look like for children this fall is dependent upon the specific reopening plan their school is offering coupled with parent comfort and choice. Parents need to feel confident in making the best decision for their family. Parents should consider what they can offer, what works best for their children, and what other supplementary support and services may need to be incorporated to ensure both learning success and safety.


Here are some strategies you may consider to support your children for their new school experience based on the three models:


In-Person

· Preview with your children how school will look different. Even though they are going back, things may not look or feel the same. Review in advance any new protocols with them that they may see or need to follow, such as temperature checks upon arrival, wearing masks and mask breaks, limited contact with peers and social distancing protocols, limited movement within the building, etc.

· Discuss the need to be flexible. Students should be prepared for some bumps in the road in the beginning, as this will be a new and unique experience for all stakeholders involved, including the other students, staff, and faculty. Everyone in the family should be prepared for the potential of going back to virtual after reopening.


Virtual

· Students may have more limited access to teachers and peers relative to what they are used to in the traditional environment. Identify opportunities for children to have live instruction and help them to follow through with being part of those opportunities. Also help your children identify other means of communicating with their teachers so that if and when they need help, they know how to contact them (i.e., email, text, etc.)

· Home learning can be an obstacle due to the general (and quite normal) distractions in the home environment. Home was not meant to encapsulate the same structure of school, so it is important to help your children to identify a distraction-reduced space in the home where they can work productively and make sure they use that space for the entire “school day”.

· When we have more access to our children during the learning experience, there is more chance that we will do for them rather than having them do for themselves. Check yourself and make sure you are encouraging your children to fulfill their academic responsibilities with guidance and a lens towards independence. In addition, if you and your child are butting heads about school, do not feel defeated. This is a quite normal response to an unusual circumstance. School was not meant to be synonymous with home, but in this circumstance, it may have to be. If school is an emotionally charged topic, like it is for many parents and children, do not hesitate to ask for help from outside resources. There are people out there (like us!) that can assist in leading your children through the virtual schooling process.

Hybrid 

· A hybrid model requires versatility in being able to accommodate to both in-person and virtual learning styles. This should be informed by the strategies discussed in both of the above sections.

· A hybrid model combines partial in-person and partial virtual learning, requiring frequent routine shifts and changes as students have to navigate the type and location of learning on a daily basis. Such shifting can lead to confusion and responsibilities falling through the cracks, and therefore planning and organization are essential.  Reviewing with students their daily responsibilities and tasks can assist in helping them to stay organized and in the know. This exposes them to a level of agility and flexibility that is necessary to embrace as one becomes an adult.


Preparation and thoughtfulness for this new school experience is essential. Although so much is still unknown, we do know that this new school year will be different than in the past. Identifying how it will look, feel and be different will allow us to be armed with the strategies to set our children up proactively for success. For more specific strategies and concerns for each of these environments, look out for our next blog.


Preparation and thoughtfulness for this new school experience is essential. Although so much is still unknown, we do know that this new school year will be different than in the past. Identifying how it will look, feel and be different will allow us to be armed with the strategies to set our children up proactively for success. For more specific strategies and concerns for each of these environments, look out for our next blog.