By John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee
It’s hard to believe that we are in the throes of a global pandemic, with over 200,000 people in the United State dead – passed away due to the novel coronavirus. This certainly has frightened many people – and rightly so.
Guidelines from the CDC have been posted just about every day, and the importance of wearing a facial mask has been articulated by every health official across our nation.
When it comes to starting school, there appears not to be any right answer, other than to make decisions on the side of safety. In Massachusetts, using the data, each city has been placed in a catalog of green to go and red to stop when moving forward with decision making of returning to schools in person.
In Worcester, remote learning for the entire school population was the course of action agreed upon by the Superintendent and the Worcester School Committee. At this point in time WPS students will continue with remote learning until the end of the first semester, which ends around the first week in November. Based on data from the medical professionals and where we are as a community, a decision will be made on whether part of the student population will go back using a hybrid model of going to school one or two days a week or continue with the present remote learning model. Also, parents will have the option of staying with the remote model.
The other unknown factor is the air quality in each school building and whether the work being done now will allow some students to return to their buildings. The projected finished air quality project has been estimated to be completed sometime at the end of December.
Come November, depending on those factors, perhaps we will be able to bring back our most vulnerable students: our special education children and our English Language learners on a four-days-a-week schedule first.
Another group worth mentioning that I am extremely concerned about is our Pre-K to Grade One students. These students need a teacher in front of them!! There is no substitute for real interaction from a teacher in any grade, but especially one in early education.
How does one learn to read remotely? Distance learning within this subset is most difficult for children who need the classroom teacher in front of them. With online learning there is no engagement or sense of community that exists for these young ones.
It is most unfortunate that these children are starting their school career with a computer, and their first school experience in school is behind a screen and devoid of the environment that students absolutely need.
What is most important in learning are the people, the nurturing and the relationships between teachers and students.
My advice at this stage of the pandemic is to do all that we can to get our early learners, SPED students and ELL students back in school. However, with distance learning taking place now, we need to understand that RELATIONSHIPS are essential for the school district. We may not be together, but we can stay in touch and show that we care. We need to keep in mind that children require strong connections with adults to thrive. I would encourage teachers to check in one on one with each student via Zoom as frequently as possible and send a class-wide email every day to the parents.
Also, teachers will need to reach out to the parents on how to support their child’s learning and actively solicit parent feedback weekly. We are in difficult times, but everyone needs to give their best effort. Let’s hope that in the near future we can find a way to return our neediest students back to school!