It is a brave new world for teachers, students, administrators, parents — anyone who is connected to the world of education in the era of the coronavirus pandemic.
Everyone is struggling through the mess, trying to do the best they can.
Need evidence? Look no further than the pages of this newspaper over the past week or so:
• Parents are bringing their children to work so they can watch over the virtual learning process while they try to earn a buck. Cynthia Jones, a mom who runs the second-hand shop From One to Another, explained to our reporter that she did not want her two sons left at home to fend for themselves. “They turn their camera off and they turn their mic on mute and they’re walking around the kitchen getting a snack,” she said. “You can’t do that.”
• Other parents are pulling their kids together in “learning pods” where students of a similar age stay together to have some in-person instruction. Many are being organized and overseen by education professionals, like substitute teachers. Kim Ragan, who is a preschool teacher as well as a sub, runs four pods, each with a maximum of 10 children. She meets with them two days a week for two hours, giving the children the benefits of a classroom environment without a crowded school building, and giving parents a break.
• At the school system itself, teachers are working with small groups of children who have a strong need for face-to-face interaction.
Jamie Aliveto, executive director of System Accountability and School Administration for FCPS, told the school board that staff identified three focus areas for the small groups: children who have access issues; children who have program, course and/or service requirements; and children who have performance challenges.
The access group is for students who either lack internet access or face obstacles that prevent them from actively engaging with virtual learning.
The program, course, and/or service requirement group focused on special education students, English Language Learner students, or students enrolled in courses at the Career and Technology Center.
The third focus area of performance looked at students who may need additional academic support or intervention.
The school system has already gone through one incident of a server outage that brought the entire virtual learning system to a halt. Parents and students were angry and frustrated by the inability to access the system, but no further widespread incidents have been reported.
The beginning of this disrupted school year has been a difficult experience for all involved. No one wants this to be the way their children are educated, but everyone wants the schools to operate as safely as possibly, and this looks to be it for now.
If the worst predictions come to pass and the pandemic roars again, either by itself or in concert with the seasonal flu, we believe our children will be better off working from home or in small groups. The prospect of opening the schools for a few weeks and then suddenly having to close them all again is too terrible to contemplate.
Better to focus our efforts on making virtual learning as efficient and seamless as possible under these circumstances. The day will come when children will be able to return to their schools without fear. The goal for now is to keep them moving forward as best we can.