The kindergarten teacher was introducing herself to her new pupils whom she would be teaching this fall. Of course, because of the continuing nightmare of a pandemic, the introduction was by Zoom call.
All the sweet little faces filled the screen as the teacher explained how school will be conducted remotely. At the end of the session, she asked if anyone had questions.
One little girl who had been silent until then, asked sadly: “But how will I meet any friends?”
Indeed, it is a heart-wrenching question. The impact of growing up in a pandemic on our children is a mystery, not just concerning their education, but in how their personalities and lives will be affected.
That little girl’s poignant question is one of many that are on the minds of children and parents as we prepare to start school: How is this going to work? How will I learn? How much will my education suffer? How will I learn to socialize? And, yes, how will I meet friends?
To get answers about learning, Frederick County Public Schools plans to assess students to determine their academic needs. In other words, the educators need to see how far their students may have fallen behind during the chaotic, irregular spring semester, when the COVID-19 virus forced schools to close with little or no preparation.
“What we knew was that there was varied student engagement... with how they were participating in the continuity of learning during those last three months,” Jennifer Bingman, director of System Accountability and School Improvement for FCPS, told reporter Katryna Perera.
Both the state and federal departments of education waived testing during the spring semester. However, Maryland is requiring schools to determine where students stand and develop plans for the success of each student. That process will give children and parents both clarity and hopefully reassurance.
For the fall semester, Frederick County schools will be teaching almost entirely by remote, virtual instruction. The system has had months to prepare, as opposed to the days that were all the time available during the switch in spring. We trust that the fall semester will go much more smoothly.
But parents are going to need help and information about how to meet the needs of children who will once again be isolated at home instead of mixing with their peers in classrooms.
Denise Daniels, a child development expert, wrote recently on the parenting website Motherly that the best way to help kids cope with crisis is to teach them to recognize, understand and manage their emotions.
“Children may be upset seeing people wearing masks, overhearing anxious conversations, being physically distant from people they care about or having their routine gravely disrupted,” she wrote.
“Not talking about the pandemic can actually make kids worry more. Acknowledge their concerns, validate their feelings and provide comfort and reassurance.”
Daniels has worked with Scholastic Publishing and the Yale Child Study Center to create “First Aid for Families: Helping Kids Cope During the Corona Pandemic.” It is a free public service video available at www.Scholastic.com.
Parents need all the help they can get. We are all going through the most traumatic public health emergency in a century, and we are all trying to find our way through a dark, dangerous, scary landscape. Protecting children from lasting damage is vital.
Daniels offers a hopeful prognosis.
“Kids will generally ‘bounce back’ if during the pandemic they have received emotional support from caring adults in their lives … That’s why your love and support is so important right now: Calm parents encourage calm children,” she wrote.
We will get through this pandemic eventually. Our goal now must be to keep our children, our schools, as well as our community, state and nation, safe and sane during this terrible transition to some semblance of normal. It will definitely be a new normal, but we hope it will be a recognizable world.