We are back with another installment of our Parenting in the Pandemic series, gearing up for back to school in the midst of a global health crisis. Check out the first post we did here. This week I am joined by High School Principal Cara Tait-Fanor, of Williamsburg HS of Arts & Technology in Brooklyn, New York. Fun fact: Cara and I went to junior high school together at Mark Twain for the Gifted & Talented and she is a dear friend of mine. I am honored she took the time to sit down and speak with me on today’s topic.
I wanted to thank you for all the positive feedback shown to the first post! It truly means a lot that the information I am gathering has been helpful. I took the comment I received above to speak to Cara and get her insights into the “learning pods” and how they can possibly work for OUR community. Let’s get into it!
If you don’t know what a learning pod is, it’s basically a cooperative of parents getting together a group of students usually 3-10 and paying a teacher or tutor to come and teach them privately. The pods take place at a specified home or can be rotated each week amongst the group. I referenced articles in USA Today and The New York Times. I’ve linked them so you all can read up about them and get more information. These pods can cost upwards of $100,000, I wanted to speak to Cara on how WE can tap into this kind of model for our children.
Cara suggested that first, we need to find a few like-minded people in our own personal tribes to get this started. I, unfortunately, do not have a close relationship with my neighbors, I am just a “hello” at the bus stop kind of parent. She then suggested finding a recent college graduate with a major in Education who may be at home looking for work, or a retired teacher that can spare a few days a week to teach. This is a time where we can take control of the curriculum that is taught to our children. We can schedule in time for African Studies, real Black History, and more. A concentrated learning pod of five students will offer more cooperative learning than the remote model that is being offered in many districts for the upcoming school year.
Learning pods can also be an extra-curricular activity in conjunction with the school model you have chosen. Caleb and Joshua attended a virtual basketball camp hosted by the Knicks for five weeks this summer. Maybe you want to enrich your child’s music, art, or athletic skills outside of what is being offered remotely with your school. A concentrated pod after-school for these subjects will be more cost-effective than completely immersing your child in a learning pod for all subjects! If COVID has taught us anything, it’s the fact that we can now reimagine how many things we were doing before can be done remotely. School is one of those things, the model for school hasn’t changed in years. Just food for thought, I always encourage you to do more research on your own!
Cara is entering her ninth year as a High School Principal and she is preparing cautiously as New York City will allow for some in-person instruction. She is planning in order to maximize social distancing and safety. For her school, this looks like reimagining the program in order to reduce or eliminate the passing periods that you see in a traditional high school experience. They will also utilize their largest spaces and think about how to use outdoor spaces when possible.
If you are sending your kids back to school, she suggests communicating with your child’s individual school to ask about protocols for safety and
cleanliness. It is important to ask about the procedures for arrival and departure, bathroom usage, as well as lunchtime. This is also the time to practice with your young persons around mask-wearing and washing hands. Many of us have worn masks to go out for short periods of time, but
being back in school for a full day will require wearing a mask for longer than most of us have tried. Consider practicing and speaking with your child about how to feel most comfortable prior to the first day of school.
At her school, she has continued to meet bi-weekly with the parents. As a school leader, she believes that her entire school community should have the same amount of information that she has, so they meet whenever she gets an update. Her guidance counselors and social workers participate in these sessions as well, because this is a stressful time! Families need a safe space to process, ask questions, and make the most informed decisions
possible. Her staff is committed to developing high-interest projects that can work both in the remote space and in person. This is a time where teachers are learning how to truly incorporate technology in meaningful ways. She believes that we can be making some lasting changes that can positively impact the ways that we are able to tailor learning experiences to our learning needs.
Pennsylvania has updated us since the last interview, and our family has chosen a remote model with active teacher instruction as opposed to the model they gave earlier this year. I had to once again ask about the effects of virtual learning on children. Cara says the success of virtual learning really is dependent on how intentionally the programming was designed, as well as proper alignment to the needs of the individual student. Parents who are able to fill in the gap with explaining directions or clarifying questions will definitely positively increase a student’s success rates. A student’s literacy level also will impact the success level. Often something as simple as the directions can turn a relatively simple task, into something that feels impossible for students. Some of the positives to virtual learning includes an opportunity for a student to work at their own pace and to have a personalized learning experience.
“Take a breath and feel ok with the decision that you are making, since none are going to be perfect.“Cara Tait-Fanor, Principal of Williamsburg High School of Arts & Technology
If you are planning to go fully remote this school year, Cara offers this bit of advice. “First of all, feel confident in knowing that whatever decision you choose to make…it is the right one for you, your child, and your family. So, my first advice is to take a breath and feel ok with the decision that you are making since none are going to be perfect.” In a more practice sense, she suggests checking in with your student at the start and end of remote learning sessions. Before the day begins, ask them questions where they can predict what they are going to be working on, based on yesterday’s work. If they have flexibility in their work choices, ask them how they plan on utilizing their day. Provide times where they are taking a break from looking at the computer. Screen fatigue is real and can be especially
problematic for young people who may not realize when it is happening.
Lastly, if something seems unreasonable…advocate for your child. Most educators are learning right along with you, so it is possible that a task may not be working the way that the teacher intended. The more feedback that educators get, the more they can begin to refine.
Thank you so much for reading this post and shout-out to the comment that inspired most of this interview. I hope you all found some insight that will help you make the best decision for your family this school year. Please feel free to leave any feedback and questions below. Stay chic and please stay safe. I am lifting all the remote learning families up in prayer. Especially those of you who will also be working from home alongside your children, we got this!