First graders listen to Los Angeles Unified School District interim Superintendent Megan Reilly (not shown) read a book on the first day of school at the Normont Early Education Center in Harbor City, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. (Brittany Murray/The Orange County Register via AP)

Back to school season is in full effect and it came with many unpredictable changes. The COVID-19 pandemic quickly changed the dynamics of many families including the role parents and guardians play in the academic success of their children.  

They had to juggle the difficult task of taking responsibility for the children’s learning process while taking care of the home. Students learned to work independently all while experimenting with various online technologies to ensure communication between students and teachers.

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When the Texas Education Agency reported that Texas had a number of students fail the STAAR exam earlier this year, many Houston area schools opened their doors for in-person learning to make up for the significant decline in student performance during the pandemic.

With the rise of the Delta-variant COVID-19 cases, many parents are still on the fence about sending their children back. Luckily, there are a few Houston-area ISDs (Katy, Humble, Conroe and Fort Bend) willing to offer virtual learning options even if the state doesn’t fund it. That would mean that parents need better strategies to keep their children engaged.

According to a study from the National Center of Biotechnology Information, a parent’s involvement in a child’s early education is consistently founded to be positively associated with a child’s academic performance. It also states that children whose parents are involved in their education have higher levels of academic performance than those involved to a lesser degree.

The Defender spoke to local experts to give parents tips on how they can help their children succeed in the classroom or remotely.

Dr. Patricia Hoffman-Miller

Associate Professor, Department of Education Leadership and Counseling, Prairie View A&M University

Parents can connect with their child’s teachers to figure out what subject areas they are struggling in and what applications or resources these educators use that could be taught at home. Realize children are emotional too. They are happy to get back into school to see their friends. They are tired of being at home. They want to socialize. This is a transitory period, and the way we as educators and parents navigate this period will determine how successful our children are. Education.com is a great tool that parents and educators can use to keep their children up to speed during the academic year. It provides a wide range of games, video lessons, reading comprehension and math worksheets, and it aligns with what you will be expected to see on the STAAR exam. Education.com has material that is up to the standard of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the state standard for student’s needs in order to be successful. It is a comprehensive academic resource. The website also has social and emotional exercises and activities to help assess how well children make decisions, displaying empathy, how to properly address feelings and deal with isolation, and disappointment. It’s also important to know that all across the country, Black parents and Black children, even in rural areas, access to the internet is sketchy at best because of the isolated nature in these communities. I recommend that parents work with the school. A teacher can provide a packet of information for an entire lesson plan and that can be completed by the child at home. The library is another good resource. Lastly, it’s important to form learning pods. If one parent is not working or if one parent has internet access to lesson Education.com for example, then that means one parent can work with 3-5 children and share that information. The website can be accessed by phone if you don’t have a computer.

Jamal Robinson

2nd-grade teacher, Houston Independent School District

We have to engage our kids back to reading and learning beyond technology. A lot of our kids are suffering because they haven’t used school books. Parents aren’t taking enough time out of their day to read to them. There isn’t enough structure or reinforcement they the children can benefit from outside of the classroom. They need to improve their critical thinking skills and their ability to think independently without depending on the internet for answers. Learning has to be deeper than basic memorization. It’s important to monitor what children are doing online when they are at home and to make sure time management is enforced so that they aren’t playing games during study time. There are so many types of digital programs and resources that can help to close these gaps.

  • K12reader.com (Reading instruction resource)
  • Math-drills.com (Free math worksheets)
  • Brainpop.com (Animated educational website for kids)
Photo Credit: Texas Children’s Hospital

Dr. Jean Leclerc Raphael

Physician, Sickle Cell Program: Texas Children’s Hematology Center 

I would start with the schools. You have multiple resources there. You have the teachers for your child to get a sense of how your child is doing in general and then you can get strategies from their teachers about things that they seem to think work. Another place parents should go is their doctor because your pediatrician is seeing all of these kids and thinking about the child’s well-being and development and how they do over time. It’s a good source of expertise to help parents…support [their] children emotionally. There are online tools and guides. If you go to the US Department of Education, they have a whole section just on parenting and supporting kids from an educational standpoint during this time. They talk about different practical tips, and resources you can go to. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has information on how parents should guide themselves in terms of preparing them for school, engaging the school system especially if your kid has special health care needs or any kind of chronic conditions.