School Like Never Before
Written by Zawareen Zakaria
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every walk of life and every facet of life, including how schools and classes are organized across the world. While the beginning of the pandemic has seen classrooms going virtual, the last several months have seen school administrations, teachers, parents, and students working tirelessly to ensure safety in classrooms for in-person learning. A variety of learning modules have been introduced or reworked in order to engage students and promote effective teaching by educators for the upcoming school year, given the desire to return to some semblance of normalcy in light of the continued impact of COVID-19 on public spaces and gatherings.
According to the Center for Disease Control, there are many factors to consider and preventative measures that must be taken before schools can transition back to the traditional, fully in-person classes. Physical classrooms must be reoriented to ensure at least a two-meter distance between individuals, which can be done through desk and seating spacing as well as physical cues, such as tape or chalk, to mark out safe distances. School supplies and other learning aides must be cleaned and disinfected between each use, and the sharing of these items must also be limited if not avoided. Large gatherings of students and teachers, such as field trips and extracurriculars, must be restricted, and entry to volunteers, non-essential visitors, and caregivers is also restricted. Proper ventilation and sanitation must be enforced, both by teachers and school administration as a whole, and masks are mandated for everyone. Plans for safety procedures, the distribution and making of school food, and alternate teaching plans must also be completed and ready to go prior to schools going in-person, especially if community and district needs as informed by the pandemic require schools to transition back online.
This September, most, if not all, schools and communities have opted to do a combination of in-person and virtual learning, also known as hybrid learning. This can include a portion of students engaging in the content in a physical classroom while the remainder tunes in via virtual conferencing platforms such as Google Meet or Zoom. Teachers would be responsible for both the in-person and digital components of teaching. Many have opted to make accessible for their students’ course materials outside of class hours as a means of supplementing required work done synchronously.
All teaching methods, regardless of what is ultimately decided upon by one’s school district and/or state, must be made available for all students and staff, especially those who are immunocompromised, have any physical and/or learning disabilities, and/or have unstable living/learning environments for whatever reason. Hybrid teaching, while not completely perfect, does the best at ensuring safety for all involved individuals while still accommodating any needs that require someone to be in physical classroom spaces. It is recommended that schools should supplement teaching methods for the populations that they serve by connecting the community through mobile technology and increased communication and resources. Outside organizations and programs such as Khan Academy, GoPeer and SmartTutor, are providing resources for supplemented tutoring and the like for student and teacher assistance. ICNA Relief is holding bi-weekly support groups for caregivers and has also launched, EMPOWER, a grant for elementary school educators to ease worries about supplies and classroom organization at this time. Schools, and caregivers, are also encouraged to mitigate dangers of excessive screen time and fatigue caused by learning amidst a global pandemic by encouraging activities that take one away from the screen, including crafts and exercises – as recommended during ICNA Relief’s Diary of a Virtual Teacher program.
This school year presents many challenges as to how we can ensure our students are engaging in beneficial and effective learning and students, teachers, and administrators are kept safe and healthy. Fortunately, there are a myriad of options caregivers and schools have to customize their learning experiences, but, above all, the most important thing we can all take away from this time is the support we can lend to one another.