A learning experience for all of us

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As schools in Rhode Island will remain closed until at least April 3 due to the state’s efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, this week saw the beginning of the first widespread distance learning plans in state history – as students, parents and school personnel are experiencing across the entire country.

These are truly unprecedented times. Even students themselves – who, if asked during periods of normalcy whether they’d appreciate a couple weeks of extra vacation in a year, would likely jump at the chance – are likely experiencing anxiety from the uncomfortable oddity that we now face as reality.

It must be made clear that so far in our society, we have come up with no equal substitute for in-person, regularly scheduled schooling where a trained teacher leads a group of students in a classroom and is on hand to provide guidance and troubleshooting when questions are inevitably asked.

However, it is a testament to our technological advancement where – in such extreme and drastic times – we’re able to at least continue some semblance of learning and continue the nourishment of our children’s minds. We should consider ourselves grateful to be in a position where students can be given access to remote learning tools, such as Chromebooks and Google Classroom, to provide this imperfect stopgap. Clearly, now more than ever, these oft-criticized virtual tools are displaying their value.

At the same time, however, we must emphasize that this experience is not going to be without its difficulties. Students who speak English as a second language and students with IEPs or other special needs require more hands-on attention to achieve similar results as children without those additional challenges, and it remains to be seen if remote learning can take the place of a dedicated teacher providing that guidance.

For the time being, our school districts are doing the best that they can with the resources available to them to make something resembling a positive out of a profoundly negative situation. School websites in Cranston, Warwick and Johnston all have resources online for parents and teachers to look at remote learning plans and see resources available to them. We would ask for continuing patience from our hardworking school officials during these uncertain times. They are figuring this out right alongside all of the rest of us.

As much as this situation puts a spotlight on how important our teachers and school administrators are to the proper education of our young ones, it shines an equally bright light on the role that parents play in their kids’ education as well. By this point, most parents should be working from home, or have unfortunately been furloughed or laid off from their employment. Others who work essential services are out doing important work to keep the state running and helping support those who have been affected by the virus.

For those parents who find themselves in the abnormal position of playing witness to your child’s education – from the same living room, perhaps – use this as an opportunity to engage with them in real ways about their education. Find out what they are learning, what they have trouble with, what subjects excite them the most, how they’re finding the remote learning experience to be going.

Teachers have an impossible task trying to coordinate and facilitate these plans, and they cannot provide the hands-on attention that is possible in a classroom setting. They need your help to ensure that students are waking up and engaging in the lesson plan, that they are taking it seriously and that they are speaking up when something isn’t working or needs clarification.

As we’re seeing in all aspects of our society right now, the only way we’ll make it through these scary times is just as that – as a society. We need to hold each other up and lend a hand however possible. At the very least, we must be patient as kinks are worked out in the system. And while we must understand that this isn’t going to be the norm forever, these weeks are crucial to ensuring this year isn’t lost – which would be a big blow to a critical time of development in a young person’s brain.

So check in with your children, thank their teacher and principal for their hard work, and celebrate the moments you get to spend with your kids that you normally wouldn’t get. We can’t control the contagiousness of a virus or how it impacts our society, but we can always control how we deal with it.

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