Misha McClure works with her son during virtual learning.

By Tiana Woodard

As Texas approaches a year since it confirmed its first case of the novel coronavirus, parents are still scrambling to master online instruction. And for many, they have little to no help in tackling such a challenge. 

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Here’s what you need to know to ensure your student’s success in virtual learning: 

  1. How have Texas’ academic requirements adjusted in response to COVID-19? 

Texas will continue to require students to show up in-person to take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) doesn’t aim to administer statewide online testing until the 2022-2023 school year. 

Most students can skip the test this year without penalty, but high school students might still need it to graduate. 

This year, schools won’t receive state ratings this year based on academic performance. 

  • How can I make virtual learning engaging for my child? 

To keep their child engaged, parents should understand the key components to successful learning. Dr. Patricia Hoffman-Miller, an associate professor of educational leadership at Prairie View A&M University, said young learners thrive with one-on-one relationships and routine. For older children, she said the teacher-student relationship is still key. 

“People post on Facebook and on Instagram and so many other apps, but the real binding thread is human interaction,” Hoffman-Miller said. 

Keeping students engaged also means keeping them motivated. LaCresha Douresseaux, founder of L&C Hybrid Tutoring Services, said parents should integrate fun and play into their home learning. 

“You can go to YouTube, you can make (their learning) animated,” Douresseaux, who also teaches seventh grade English language arts at Missouri City Middle School, said. “Do something fun with it. Make it a rap song, make it a play.” 

Making at-home learning engaging also means eliminating distractions. Douresseaux said parents should resist the urge to assign their children chores during class time. These activities interfere with their school mindset. 

“Kids are very horrible at multitasking,” Douresseaux said. “There’s no way they can wash the dishes, cook lunch and try to stay focused in the online class because they’re going to miss something.”

  • How can I ensure my child stays engaged when I can’t work from home? 

If parents aren’t home to monitor their child’s online learning, Hoffman-Miller recommends that they form “learning pods” where a small group of children are monitored by one person who can work remotely. She said for it to work, the supervisor must divide the students by grade level. 

“Everyone has friends … that we associate with routinely,” Hoffman-Miller said. “”

While the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released guidance on pods for in-person learning, it does not recommend creating COVID-19 pods at home. 

  • What resources can I use to help with my child’s virtual learning? 

Multiple groups, including TEA, have created resource lists to help students learning online during COVID-19. 

For parents of students who utilize special education services, apps like Bublup, bubble.us and Popplet can help children visualize concepts taught in class. TEA also compiled special education resources for virtual learning on their website. 

Rethinking Schools, a nonprofit devoted to social justice education, has also compiled teaching resources for learning on Black topics and history often left out of state curriculums. 

As schools gear up for STAAR, parents should check and see if they’re offering “spring break boot camps.” These programs allow students to brush up on their skills before taking the standardized tests in April or May. 

If boot camps aren’t an option in your child’s district, TEA also lists STAAR resources on its website which include printable versions of past tests, a list of answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ’s) and definitions for some education lingo parents might need to know. Links for English learners and students receiving special education services are also available.

Douresseaux said devoting as little as 30 minutes a day to mastering STAAR can go a long way. 

  • Tutoring services aren’t realistic or affordable for me right now. Are there alternatives available? 

COVID-19 has drained parents’ funding for tutoring, and for some, it was never an option to begin with. 

Instead of formal tutoring companies, Hoffman-Miller said parents could turn to college students or young adults, who have mastered K-12 concepts but often don’t charge the same session rates.

“Older children, even young adults that are attending college, are our resources that we do not really tap into or take advantage of,” Hoffman-Miller said. “There are a lot of young people attending college in their first year or second year that would like to earn extra money tutoring.”

Some formal programs, like Douresseaux’s tutoring service, have lowered rates in response to the pandemic. 

“If we see an issue and this parent is really vocal about it, as an educator, as a woman, as a woman of color … I can’t just say ‘I can’t help you,’” Douresseaux said. “At the end of the day, we all have bills to be paid, but you gotta reach one to teach one.”

Some districts transitioned to virtual after school programs because of COVID-19. For example, Houston Independent School District (HISD) offers a virtual version of the Texas Afterschool Centers on Education (ACE) program at certain schools. 

If tutoring isn’t an option, Hoffman-Miller said parents should consider collaborating to master and teach their children curriculum requirements. 

“I always believe in strength in numbers,” Hoffman-Miller said. 

  • How can I support my child’s emotional well-being as they learn from home? 

Hoffman-Miller said parents “must go an extra yard” to have patience with their child’s emotional troubles. . 

“They’re not going to school. They’re not seeing their friends. They’re not engaging with their teachers,” Hoffman-Miller said. “Listen, understand and be empathetic, as well as sympathetic. It’s going to take a lot of love for all of us to get through this.”

Also, some schools have expanded counseling services to students’ whole families because of increased need during the pandemic. Douresseaux said she suggests parents take advantage of these resources while they’re there.

“Just because you rely on a counselor or a therapist does not mean you are crazy,” Douresseaux said. “Sometimes, it’s very good to get unbiased input.” 

Hoffman-Miller said as children continue to bear the brunt of COVID-19, teaching with kindness is key. 

“You want to establish realistic goals and you want to establish a culture of ‘can do,’” Hoffman-Miller said. “We’re going to help (students) get through this irrespective of whether we’re learning through a face-to-face class, a hybrid class or totally remote.”