When the coronavirus pandemic first hit in March, Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) and parents did their best to get kids in front of computers and learning. It was largely disorganized, confusing and difficult to manage although we bound together and finished out the school year as best we could. When the school year was done, most of us thought we were over the worst of it. But COVID-19 had different ideas. Now, we face the realization that our kids will once again be sitting next to us, in many cases, getting their schooling digitally for the foreseeable future.
But all is not lost. Far from it. We are now battle tested. Both parents and children know they can survive whatever the coronavirus pandemic throws at them and we will not only make the best of it, but learn from our past experience to do even better than before. Whether our children progress or digress will be up to us. Here are four ways to ensure the former!
1. Get Off to an Early Start
Classes are set to start on Aug. 31, with the previous week scheduled for orientation (starting Aug. 24.) But don’t wait until then to start retraining your children (and yourselves) for what online schooling looks and feels like. No more late nights or sleeping in. Just because there is no drive to school right now, doesn’t mean they don’t have to go through the same routine: get up, get dressed, have breakfast and brush teeth before they sit down in front of their computers.
Get your child school ready now. Whatever their passion is, there are a variety of online options for classes that could get them ready to focus on standard school subjects in the fall. Check out low cost or free options like outschool.com, Edutopia.org and others. The transition to the start of virtual schooling is not completely unlike if they were going in person, so think about what you did in past years and follow suit. If your child is anxious about Zoom calls or other online settings, have them practice with family or friends. Clinical Psychologist Danette Beitra, Ph.D., who works at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, told the Miami Herald back-to-school anxiety is sure to be at elevated levels because of the pandemic. “We know that exposing ourselves to situations that make us uncomfortable is the best way to treat anxiety,” she said, when interviewed this week.
2. Manage Expectations, Your Own and Theirs
In the spring, we were in survival mode and basically needed to give our children any structure we could garner. Many of us were especially easy on our children and with good reason -- we were getting used to the situation.
But while we must continue to be understanding with our kids, we also have to expect more from them and us this time around. If schooling will look like this for the near future, then we must do our best to ensure that our children are invested fully. We would not sit by idly if they were not putting in the necessary effort at school and we cannot allow them to do the same at home. Let them know what will be expected from them and the consequences of not meeting those expectations.
Even so, having time to prepare is one thing, but expecting all to go smoothly is likely still wishful thinking. All the pressures that make it difficult to go back to school remain and are amplified so be honest with your kids and get ready to be flexible.
3. Get the Resources You Need to Make Your Children Good Students
When schooling went online in March, schools and parents scrambled to get kids the equipment they needed. The district supplied over 90,000 laptops to students as well as Wi-Fi access. That level of need is still likely to be there, if not more so, so parents should be keep up-to-date for the latest news from M-DCPS on exactly what resources are available and how to get them.
Before school starts, there will be an orientation for the new districtwide platform students will use, My School Online. Unlike during the spring, School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told the Miami Herald that the new platform was for all grade levels and classes, so parents and students don’t have to shift between platforms and content. He also said parents should visit M-DCPS’s Parent Academy for information to help their kids excel at distance learning.
Not all resources must be purchased, however, as you might already have some at home and it could be just a matter of rearranging work spaces to create the best area for your child. Kathy Sievering, of the National Association of School Psychologists’ crisis response group, told US News & World Report that the best setups are the ones that replicate schools. “Sitting at a desk or table with minimal distractions and noise allows a child to focus,” she says.
4. Divest from Digital, at Least Occasionally During the School Day
This might seem nonsensical or impractical considering online learning is by definition done digitally, but there still must be points throughout the day where children are not staring at a monitor or phone. Considering your child is going to be looking at a screen throughout the entirety of the school day – plus, whatever amount of time he or she uses social media or spends gaming – it is critical they get a good helping of the physical world in their day as well.
That could mean breaks where they go outside, walk the dog, ride a bike, play catch, and any other activity they can do outside. If they can’t get outside, have them do something inside. Visit The Children’s Trust’s StayHome.Miami website for ideas. While limited because of COVID-19, keeping them active at different points of the day must be a priority if they our kids are to excel at online schooling long term.
The start of school is right around the corner. Although Miami-Dade children will be getting their instruction and learning from home for the time being, if we learn from our past experience and face the challenge with energy, there is no reason we can't make this school year a success for everyone.