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Perspective | Let’s take students’ advice. Move forward, grasp opportunities

The following is Mary Ann Wolf’s “Final Word” from the Aug. 15, 2020 broadcast of Education Matters – “Student Voices and COVID-19.”

I am always amazed by our students. They consistently remind me of their resilience, creativity, and leadership skills — and in those moments, I believe that our state and our country will be OK. As you heard from our students today, they experience a range of emotions just like we do when we sit with our visions about this upcoming school year.

However, they have also found interesting approaches to solving problems, discovered how to pursue new interests, cared for their families and communities, and not given up on what is important to them.

Aug. 17 may not include the same back-to-school photos with our kids climbing onto the yellow school bus, racing to find friends at lunch, or having practice after school. And, it’s OK for all of us — students, parents, and teachers — to be sad about those missed moments. However, as our students shared, we are still moving forward and have opportunities to support them.

First, we must help them find the positive aspects of their new learning environments. If we focus on what we have lost, rather than what we might gain, we may not give our students the space to discover more about themselves and how they learn. Some students may find it easier to connect with a teacher in a remote setting. Others may use the time they used to spend on a particular activity to pursue a club or other interest.

Second, we can help students establish a schedule that aligns with the school’s expectations and also their home lives. Our children crave structure. Consider how to go back to a set wake-up time, to help your students build exercise or brain breaks into the day, and to assist students in tapping into office hours with teachers when they need help. This will look different for different families and students, and we need to be kind to ourselves as we figure out how to balance this with family work schedules or different childcare situations.

Third, ask for the help and support you need for your child or family. If you are a family who is struggling with child care, access to food, or are supporting your students’ learning needs, reach out. Schools and districts across the state are working with community partners like municipalities, YMCAs, or Boys and Girls Clubs that are providing child care options. This is still a work in progress; but there is a deep understanding of the myriad complications that hybrid or remote learning causes for our families — especially those that are most vulnerable.

Last, our students need us to support their social and emotional learning, in addition to their academics. This may require helping our students to find other students online or suggesting study groups or playtime outside with neighbors. Many districts have supports built-in with opportunities to sign up to talk with school counselors, social workers, or other mental health supports. You can make sure that your child knows that you see this as critical to their learning.

This year will be different. While we all strive for normalcy, we can help our students and children make the most of each day and these unique learning opportunities. Our children only get each of these days in whatever grade they are in once.

These minutes are important and will help shape who they are and will become. I am confident that our families and schools will strive to support them each step of the way.

Mary Ann Wolf

Mary Ann Wolf, Ph.D. has served as President and Executive Director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina since June 2020, bringing with her more than 20 years of educational policy and leadership working directly with schools and districts across North Carolina to improve equity and build capacity for innovation.