The summer of COVID: Preparing for school in the fall

With summer fast approaching, parents face the unenviable prospect of most, if not all, summer camps and vacation plans being cancelled. That said, many want to know how best to use the summer months to prepare their children for the new 2020-21 school year, even with its start date and format still up in the air.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Longtime education professional Toni Imani Fisher suggests focusing on the basics.

“Read, read, read,” said Fisher, founder of Sisterhood Creations, Inc. “It is critical for students not to lose any growth in the area of literacy. Too many African American students already lag behind their peers academically. Students should be encouraged to read and write about what they read.”

Fisher said summer is a great time to visit the library [once public libraries open] and start a family book club and encourages older students to read the classics. “It’s a great opportunity for parents to pick some of their high school favorites.”

Fisher added that letter-writing is a great way for students to increase writing skills, and practicing basic math skills via flashcards, Internet math games or weekly tests, especially for pre-K through 8th graders, is a must.

Alieshia Baisy-Dyer

Educational consultant Alieshia Baisy-Dyer encourages parents to stay in constant communication with their child’s school leadership teams to ensure they are up to speed on decisions regarding virtual learning. She also suggests identifying now summer and fall programs that address the student’s academic and social emotional needs.

She’s also a big advocate for direct communication with children.

“Engage students in conversations about the changes and include them in creating a schedule that meets their needs. Operate with love and grace during the unprecedented times,” said Baisy-Dyer.

Educational leader Tori Moore Cofield, executive director of Hope for Families, suggested finding out what your child’s school district recommends students do during the summer. She also pushes parents to familiarize themselves with the STAAR test expectations for 3rd through 12th-graders.

Tori Moore Cofield

“The released tests are available online and there is a ton of resources out there to help students prepare,” she said.

For Cofield, however, the most important thing is keeping your child on a schedule rather than allowing them to get up and go to bed “at whatever time,” and not letting TV and social media become their accepted pastimes.

 

RESOURCES

Cofield does recommend parents use the internet to find an abundance of resources that can be utilized, including teacher communication and summer programs.

“All parents have one-on-one access to their child’s teacher now.  They should be asking this question [about useful resources] to them.”

Cofield added, “Summer programs that are academic in nature or have academics in their daily schedule are one of the best options.  There is a cost, but the return is well worth it.”

Baisy-Dyer said look to local libraries and universities offering free online classes that support virtual learning. She also agrees with Cofield in going directly to the source.

“Today’s virtual student should begin with the resources provided by their classroom teachers. Many of these resources will be familiar to the parent and student. Review the goal areas to determine where your student will need more hand-on support from you and where you can allow them to be more independent.”

Baisy-Dyer personally recommended ABCMouse and PBS for early learners, and Study Island and ixl for older students.

Fisher suggested bookmarking several websites: your child’s school district’s, the specific school and the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA’s).

“Although the TEA has waived the STAAR Assessment…parents are encouraged to download the assessment their student would have taken this school year, grade the test, and determine a plan for the summer to address some of the student’s deficits,” Fisher said.

CHALLENGES

Baisy-Dyer and Fisher identified several challenges facing parents and children in the coming months, bleeding into the new school year. They include the lack of access to online classes and resources, lack of direct teacher-led instruction, lack of group interaction and peer learning and more.

“Social interaction matters,” Fisher said. “It is important to the academic development of all students. Students will lack the ability to socially interact, problem-solve, and develop needed communication skills. Moreover, there is nothing more important than direct instruction, and teachers having the ability to teach, re-teach and assess the students learning for mastery,” stated Fisher.

Cofield, however, believes unaddressed trauma will be the elephant in the classroom.

“It is my opinion that social distancing will become the new normal for all of us. With that said, how do districts enforce this new normal in ways that promote strong school cultures?  The children will be afraid and many of them will use this fear or others’ fear of the virus as a means to avoid the ‘work’ or distract those who are trying to adjust.”

Cofield fears many students will cease seeing school as important after experiencing pandemic-induced trauma.

“Teachers too are struggling due to the virus and with expectations on them being even higher and harder next year, my concern is that we will have a huge breakdown in teacher preparedness and stamina.”

OPPORTUNITIES

Fishers views the summer months as an opportunity for parents to check on the emotional well-being of their children.

“Ask them to express how they are feeling, and what they are fearing… Some children may be fearful of returning to school, while others are counting down to the first day of school.”

Cofield sees opportunities for some, and a call-to-action challenge for others.

“For those whose parents are involved and conscious of how important it is to keep their children engaged in learning, next year could actually be exciting, with them feeling successful once they return.  Unfortunately, this is not the case for most.”

Cofield said parents returning to work and leaving children unsupervised may leave children losing what they have learned.

“Overall, especially in inner-city schools, we have not had great success in getting parents full support in our efforts to close the achievement gap.  If they don’t step up and step in now, the future is going to be bleak unless districts address these problems now, while they have time,” Cofield said.

Even under the best of circumstances, many children return to school with academic deficits. Fishers said this will certainly be the case for many “COVID kids.”

“It will take time for our ‘COVID kids’ to catch up; that’s what we know for sure.”

Advice for college-bound high school grads

The transition from high school senior to college freshman is difficult enough without having to factor in a global pandemic. But this is the hand the Class of 2020 has been dealt.

Brian Armstrong

Brian Armstrong, Texas Southern University’s executive director of outreach services, said it’s important for college-bound high school graduates to understand that what they may have been expecting to experience for their transition to college will be different due to the pandemic.  He suggested the following:

  • Expect change: Plans made today for the upcoming fall semester (i.e. new student orientation, how students will attend class, etc.) are based on what colleges/universities know at this time. As updates are received, plans may adjust.
  • Make alternate plans: Colleges and universities are working on several plans to best meet the needs of students. These plans may ultimately affect the students’ decision on which institution to attend.
  • Buy a laptop: It is certain that how classes are taught in the near future and how students will learn will be impacted by the pandemic, which may last for quite some time. Smart phones and tablets alone may not be the best way to optimize learning in a virtual or hybrid classroom environment.
  • Identify online resources: Students who begin to learn and utilize their institution’s online classroom system (i.e. BlackBoard) will be successful during their transition to college. Also, most colleges and universities are hosting virtual webinars to assist admitted and prospective students and their parents learn about summer and fall plans. Seniors unable to take the ACT or SAT prior to March can visit www.act.org or www.collegeboard.org to learn about new dates.
  • Create a checklist: List important deadlines and dates for various college planning activities (registering for classes, submitting vaccination records, applying for campus housing, etc.).