School is back - top learnings from last month's early openers

Many school districts across the country reopened (primarily virtually) today, including one of the country’s largest - Houston ISD. If you’re part of HISD or others that are opening post-Labor day, now is a great time to take stock of learnings from the school districts who reopened a couple of weeks ago to get prepared for the new challenges.

So here’s what happened last month:

In-person school openings did not fare well, except for smaller schools and programs where students were wearing masks and in places where community rates were low. We’ve all probably seen the disturbing viral images of a packed and mask-less Georgia high school hallway that led to the quarantine of nearly 1,200 students. Many Florida schools that reopened in person, suffered a similar fate.

It appears that virtual re-openings, went a wee bit better. There were some tearful kindergartners (this one went viral ) and many parents and teachers spent more time on battling technical challenges than on the curriculum itself. But all in all, most parents and educators we spoke to said that the virtual school this fall was decidedly better than the spring. With more time to prepare teachers and schools were able to better engage students on the virtual platform.

Here are our top learnings from conversations with over 20 parents and educators from their first weeks of virtual school to help you better navigate the upcoming weeks.

1. The total time online at “school” is typically only 2-3 hours per day, which leaves a LOT of time during the day to fill, particularly for those parents working 8+ hours.

2. During this down time, be sure to make time for movement and getting outdoors. If you’re working this can be difficult - but there are “activity pods” forming for the afternoon once formal instruction is over, with families taking turns taking kids to the park or to an activity. Physical activity is important for all children, regardless of age or gender, so plan to make this a priority (though the boys seem to be the most prone to losing it, if they don't have this outlet). For example, a company called JumpBunch conducts P.E. classes in a location of your choice with a small group of your choosing (friends/neighbors/siblings). Other options could include - small group tennis lessons, parent guided park sessions, or afternoon sessions at your local YMCA.

3. Many families are finding the asynchronous work insufficient and are looking for academic supplements to their child’s education. There are tons of resources out there from apps, to workbooks, virtual enrichment programs, and in-person enrichment programs. But to avoid information overload here are a few key resources for the K-5 set that came recommended by our teacher advisors:

TeachersPayTeachers - which is like Etsy for worksheets (brilliant, right?!). You simply type in your need and it gives you lesson plans or the extra work.

Khan Academy Kids - this is a favorite for many teachers, parents and kids. In part because it’s free and easy to follow. The downside: some kids may find it a little boring.

If that’s the case then ST Math could be a good option. It’s like Khan Academy but a bit more animated. It’s particularly good for the early primary schoolers (K-3).

While ST is great for Math, EPIC is a trusted source for reading. It’s tailored to your child’s interest and reading level.

Finally, IXL is highly trusted by many educators. It does a good job of evaluating your child’s level and recommending content accordingly.

4. Be prepared to manage transitions, it’s not just about supervising the synchronous learning (the live instruction that people typically think of when they think of virtual education). But it’s equally important to plan the transitions from synchronous learning, to breaks, asynchronous work, and other activities. It’s too easy for the household to descend into chaos if not actively managed. Setting up a schedule will be critical, so the children (and the adults) can get into a rhythm and feel more at ease.

5. Just when you think you have it figured out, be prepared for change. School districts may change course in terms of reopening (as New York City did when it pushed back the school start to September 21st), and we anticipate that some in-person re-openings will get pushed out as well. It’s ok and potentially beneficial for you to shift to a different model of education if that’s what is right for your children and family, and there are resources like ours to help you figure it out!

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