MARY ANN WOLF: Support students, families, educators in diverse learning environments

Posted July 27, 2020 5:00 a.m. EDT
Updated August 2, 2020 10:16 p.m. EDT

07-20-2020 Mary Ann Wolf, Exec. Director, N.C. Public School Forum

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is Mary Ann Wolf's "Final Word" from the July 25, 2020 broadcast of Education Matters -"Supporting Families with Students in Hybrid and Remote Learning Environments." Wolf is president and executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina.

As a parent of a rising college freshman, college senior, and a ninth grader, I have been losing a lot of sleep over what the year 2020 will be like for each of my children. I worry about what they have already missed this year when it comes to learning and life’s milestones, and I wonder when they will get to fully re-engage in many of the activities they love.

As we face the uncertainty of this upcoming school year, I’m also reflecting on how important our school community has been to our family and my children. Last week, my son’s coach gave him a special book chosen for each of his high school senior athletes to bring some closure to a year that was like none other. Throughout our transition to remote learning this spring and even into the summer, I saw my youngest child connecting with school friends on a daily basis through Google Meet and FaceTime, forging bonds I didn’t think were possible through a screen. Throughout these past four months, I saw neighbors and community members make sure students in need had access to food every day, including over the weekend.

All of these instances reminded me in ways big and small that we must do everything that we can to understand where our educators, our families and our students are and try to meet their needs so that our children can continue to learn and grow during a very uncertain time.

This is the very definition of equity — not equal inputs or the same approach for all, but rather understanding the needs of each student and striving to meet them — and it has never been more important than right now. Some families have lost income, while others have a difficult time communicating with their schools due to language barriers.

Others have very unique learning needs and require services that are challenging to adapt to a remote learning environment; while some cannot access the Internet, and consequently feel very far apart from their school community. Many families and children worry about the basics right now, like food and safety. And too many have always had these struggles, not just during COVID-19.

Today on our show, educators, parents, and family advocates shared specific strategies to support our school communities — which include students, families and educators — during remote or hybrid learning scenarios. You heard about the importance of connection with schools, teachers, and peers again and again as paramount in a child’s ability to continue their academic and social and emotional learning.

As we go into this new year, it is imperative that we provide opportunities that school communities can depend on in terms of forging strong connections. Some students will have very unique needs ranging from the basics like school supplies, to time with a counselor or social worker.

Families may also need guidance in how to support their children, from how to develop a routine or schedule to how to find accessible childcare. Educators, who likely have been toiling throughout the summer to plan for this unprecedented fall, will need support from us, too — we need to go above and beyond for them by asking how we can show up and offer help in ways that may stretch us and strengthen us at the same time.

COVID-19 has forced us to approach education differently, and no stakeholder in education is able to work, learn, or support their child the way they did before.

We must continue to be creative and to work with others to meet the needs of each child this fall, because, as it’s guaranteed in our State Constitution — each and every one of our children deserves access to a sound basic education.

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