By Vernita Dorsey, Senior Vice President, Director of Community Strategy, WSFS Bank
Back-to-school season is here, and this year is different than any other in our lifetimes. The impact of COVID-19 on our schools last spring was swift as districts had to quickly pivot to remote learning as the pandemic intensified.
With a couple months to assess resources and gain feedback from faculty, staff, parents and students, districts are preparing for the beginning of the 2020-21 school year using a variety of return to learning models with the aim of keeping everyone safe.
Whichever return plan schools are implementing, there are steps parents can take to help their children adjust to unique learning environments and, most importantly, stay as safe as possible.
Think about basic supplies differently
In addition to the individual supplies your child normally needs, add the typical communal in-classroom supplies, like highlighters, pens and pencils, to your list to help reduce the spread of germs. Some schools may not offer communal supplies at all.
Prepare your remote learning supplies, too
Some districts, such as the Philadelphia School District, are implementing full remote learning plans to start the school year. Take advantage of back-to-school sales on additional items like printers, ink and paper for younger students whose curriculum includes printable worksheets. Look for deals on supplies like air dusters and a wireless mouse or check with your school to see if they are supplying accessories with school-issued computers. Don’t forget to assess your Wi-Fi strength, especially for multiple devices connected throughout the day. Check with your school district or local government for free or reduced-price hotspots, too. Finally, check the health of the personal or school-issued computer your child will be using for remote learning, including battery life.
For older students attending in person, backpacks are now their lockers
To facilitate social distancing in middle and high schools, many districts with in-school learning options are restricting or eliminating the use of hallway lockers this year. That means pre-teens and teenagers will have to carry all their school supplies, food and personal items with them from class to class, including snacks, reusable water bottles or bottled drinks, hand sanitizer, extra masks and more. Try to find backpacks that fit properly and have plenty of utility pockets for easy access to these items whether they are sitting in a classroom or afoot.
Set up a personal remote workstation at home
Most school districts are implementing at least partial return to learning at home to start the year. Talk to your children about where they were most comfortable and could concentrate on their schoolwork last spring. If you have multiple children who will be learning remotely this school year, ensure you have designated quiet spaces for each to complete their work free from distractions.
Make their remote workstation as comfortable as possible
Find out if there are any little things that would make their remote learning experience a bit easier and more structured, like a dedicated space, a new lamp for better lighting in their area or the ability to close off noise from their parents’ pesky conference calls!
Establish a return to learning routine
Without question, last spring was a mad scramble to quickly adjust to remote learning and working. With some experience managing daily work and learning activities under our belts, now is the time to review what worked, what didn’t and what routines can be established to keep your kids’ remote learning structured while also considering your own work schedule. Use a dry erase board to map out a daily calendar, adjusting as needed based on your family’s changing needs.
Use remote learning as an opportunity
While the idea of several more months of remote learning can seem daunting, look for opportunities for kids to apply what they’re learning in school to real life. For example, older students can start learning about basic finances or how to save for a car. Ask teachers about additional resources for kids for help with other aspects of their lives, such as school-sponsored remote financial education courses on money management for youth or other online resources for topics like emotional wellbeing and digital wellness.
The key for all families for a smooth learning experience will be teamwork within the household and with teachers and school officials.
This school year, we truly are in this together.