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Eyeing me meaningfully as we drove to my house, granddaughter Lulu admonished me, “We are going to toy school — no learning.” Soon after our arrival, she got out activity books. Then she pulled out letters and was spelling different words. Smiling, I thought how glad I was to be at this toy school.

While parents reported that some shy, bullied and academically challenged students did better with online classes, actually I think many kids missed school this year. And I am sad for them.

My granddaughter said she liked online classes because she didn’t have to wait for other students. That comment made me sad too. Part of student learning is learning to listen to ideas of others, building on what other students say, and correcting mistakes.

In major school districts, across the country, losses in achievement among students have been huge. Reports indicate students may have lost almost a year in mathematics. Off and on, scattered instruction and irregular attendance have affected student learning. Wednesday cleaning days in Manchester resulted in 20 percent less instruction each week. In Florida, social workers located 88,000 non-attendees, so arrangements for materials or transportation could be made. Setting up for different kinds of instruction (in-person, hybrid, online) has exhausted teachers. After preparing for a full day of face-to-face classes, a teacher conveys and posts this content online in an interesting format. I taught online classes for over a decade, and the prep time for each class was several months; luckily, I had a tech department supporting my efforts. And I was working with college students. K-12 teachers during the pandemic were not so fortunate. Their timeline for preparation was days and support was minimal. Late arrivals or insufficient numbers of devices delayed teaching in many school districts.

Parents also faced challenges and distractions with remote instruction. Parents, if working full-time, and/or with children at different grade levels, found teaching particularly taxing. Maintaining student interest in school work can be difficult at any time, but without a peer group, a reluctant student can be hard to involve. As of March 2021, over 2.5 million women left their positions to provide adequate help for their children struggling with school alone at home. Educators think it will take several years to make up losses in achievement. The Chambers Brothers would say, “Now the time has come.” It is time for thoughtful and intensive program planning. As time marches to summer, teachers can be developing programs and strategies that will set up plans that will enable each student’s growth. Rather than characterizing these programs as a catch-up crisis, let them be educational opportunities and enrichment. These programs should be seen as positive challenges to move ahead for traumatized students. A play-based approach that avoids rushing and a drill and kill approach will avoid anxiety and boredom.

In the 1960s I was an instructor for the Stallings Observation System. In this program, teachers were observed over a series of days and provided data on the instructional tasks they did in a class they found challenging to teach. They were given information on how much time in this class was devoted to instruction and interaction with students.

Teachers then used this data as a basis for improving this class in a series of discussion workshops with other teachers at similar grade levels and subject fields. Reobservation following the workshop sessions with comparative data demonstrated that most participants improved instructional time for their classes. Because instructional time correlated with student achievement, this professional development was time well spent.

Districts are required to use 20 percent of funding from the stimulus package to meet students’ needs after the pandemic. These funds can be used for summer programs and improving student learning. Combining an academic program from the schools with active sports would join physical, social and academic development.

The hours should match parent needs — 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. is when parents are working. Having programs at one site would be safer, more convenient and easier for children and families. An intensive after-school program in the fall should follow up this opportunity. Funding for direct payment for parents seeking tutoring should be provided as well.

“When will the pandemic be over,” groaned my other granddaughter.

“Now the time has come there are things to realize,” the Chambers Brothers wail, “can’t put it off another day.” Let’s not let our children “be crushed by tumbling tide.”

A columnist can offer an opinion but families will need to speak up to get their children’s needs met.

Roberta Devlin-Scherer has a doctorate from Temple University and was a professor at Seton Hall University for 20 years. She has written books, articles and poetry. She lives in Sunderland.


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