I can’t believe it is already August. This year for sure will be one for the history books. I hope you all are continuing to stay safe, COVID is still a thing even though some places have returned to normalcy. I did an IG Live series back in May about how Moms were coping with it all, you can watch those episodes here and here. With school reopening being right around the corner, I wanted to revisit the series and talk to educators about how this new normal would affect the children…..and the parents.
Today we are getting insight from Denise Matthews, Director of Special Education in River Forest, Illinois. She has been an educator for over 20 years, 10 of those years as a Special Education teacher. She has some encouragement for us to get through this, no matter what decision we make about the upcoming school year.
In Illinois, where Denise is based, state guidance is allowing each district to decide on in-person learning, remote learning, or a hybrid of both. Here in Pennsylvania, we were sent a survey recently asking a few questions on what we felt comfortable with as parents and they will let us know of their final decision. We haven’t heard any updates yet. Denise feels that families are pretty divided in her district, expressing concerns with academic regression and safety. Those are my concerns as a Mom as well, especially the academic regression. I don’t think the virtual learning they had earlier this year helped them focus, there wasn’t much structure to their school day.
During the summer, Denise’s district has been working around the clock to prepare a safe environment for the children to return to. They have been surveying parents and staff, restructuring classrooms and buildings to allow for social distancing, buying protective equipment, hiring new staff to address the school’s nursing, custodial, academic, and social-emotional needs. In special education, she recognizes their decisions will need to be individualized because all the students are different. They are working on parent universities and resources to support their families in whatever model is decided. In addition, they have made strong commitments to supporting their staff by considering their needs and fears as well. They believe self-care, transparency, and thorough planning will be key to reopening schools in any way. This experience has been traumatic for all of us.
Here are Denise’s tips for sending our children back to school:
- Ask questions. There is no universal directive nationwide. Read your school’s return to learn plan carefully to see if it meets your child’s needs. If you have additional questions, be proactive, and reach out to your school ahead of time. Your school community will be grateful to know of any potential issues or concerns as soon as possible to help provide a solution.
- If school is opening in person, start to prepare now. Teach your kids to wear a mask. Use social stories, practice wearing for extended periods of time, and create safe social distancing habits. If you wait until the first day of school to do that, it is too late.
- Consider social-emotional wellness. This is key! Take care of yourself as a parent. Establish routines that work for your family. A simple google search can yield a ton of resources. Talk to your kids about their fears. Create safe opportunities for them to socialize with friends in a safe way. Many of our kids are missing their routines and relationships. Make this a priority.
As I mentioned before, the boys did not have a structure for their online learning curriculum earlier this year. There wasn’t a set time for them to log on for the day, it was just a bunch of reading assignments and answering questions. I feel that if a virtual experience will be the new normal, I would prefer they have a more disciplined schedule. I asked Denise whether virtual learning can affect a child’s ability to progress. She said it all depends. There is data that shows that all kids will be impacted by school closures, but schools are planning for how to regroup and teach essential skills. She states that many educators have spent their summer learning how to be better remote educators. Some students have had an amazing experience remote learning and they have seen progress. We have to trust our educators and know that when we do go back to normal, there will be support in place to address any educational gaps.
“We are all nervous and want to do what is best for all. This is a trying time and the pressure is high. The nation is so divided about this pandemic. What really is a health issue has become largely political. We gotta get back to basic human needs first.”–Denise MatthewsDirector of Special Education, River Forest Illinois
If you are considering going completely virtual for the upcoming school year, Denise advises you to keep the lines of communication open with your school community. Assume that everyone has good intentions when it comes to the children. Routines work! Find a support system of other parents, friends, family, school, and community resources. Patience is key! Sometimes answers to your questions will be delayed because this is new for all of us! Last but not least, pray. Everyone is nervous and the pressure is high for everyone involved in the decision-making process. What really is a health issue, has become largely political, we need to get back to basic human needs first.
I can not thank Denise enough for taking the time to answer my questions. This will be an ongoing series for the month of August, with a new educator interview each week. I hope this post was helpful, as it is jam-packed with information. Below are a few resources Denise sent over from the CDC, that she hopes will be helpful in your decision-making process.
Thank you so much for reading, if you’ve made it this far, I appreciate you. Sound off below with any thoughts and concerns you may have for the upcoming school year. Stay chic and safe!