This year, it’s hard to say whether students or parents, with patience worn thin by distance learning, are more excited for summer break to begin. But until they log off for the summer, Granite State educators are encouraging families to keep in touch with teachers to make remote learning a bit easier and to check in about their child’s academics before summer.
Each district and school may use a unique combination of devices and online platforms, but school officials agree that communication is key, now more than ever.
Parents and students can still use routine technology to check the child’s grades and any missing assignments before the last day of classes, which usually falls between the end of May and mid-June. But getting more details about how students are handling remote learning and whether they’re prepared for the end of the year will require more than just logging into an app, said Jennifer Watson, director of student services for School Administrative Unit 35, which oversees five school districts near Franconia Notch.
Watson urges parents and guardians to take on the roles of both motivator and monitor: Ask regularly about your child’s work, check it and be available for questions or concerns.
Aside from academics, though, she underscored the value of educators looking at the full picture and considering additional stressors on quarantined families. Parents are trying to home-school their kids while facing layoffs, working from home and enduring social isolation and the pervasive anxiety of coronavirus.
Watson said staff and teachers are contacting households if a student hasn’t signed on for online classes. It’s similar to calling home if a kid is physically absent from classes, and the concept is the same, according to Watson: Maintain a connection with families, and check in to make sure everyone is safe and OK.
“Schools are really focusing now on that social, emotional element of teaching and learning and offering support,” she said.
At Beech Street Elementary School in Manchester, Principal Katrina Esparza said it’s crucial for educators to be flexible during these unorthodox times.
“Some of our families I know have six kids and, like, two Chromebooks,” Esparza said, and those children might turn in their assignments outside of typical hours.
Getting the work done should be prioritized over the exact timing or method of the submissions, she said, arguing that those worries should be off the table for families right now. If a student encounters problems with the online platform and instead sends a photo of his or her work to the teacher, Esparza said that should be sufficient.
As for catching up on a child’s academic information, Esparza urged families to contact teachers soon.
“That’s probably the best person you can talk to because they’ve spent the most time with the child,” she added.
She suggested asking for concrete details about the student’s grades and classwork, as well as one or two tips to help improve while at home.
“The teachers are able to break it down into simple steps that parents can manage,” Esparza said.
Parents of younger kids, for example, can find applicable ways for them to practice reading and math without realizing it by reading recipes and measuring ingredients, she said.
In the southwest corner of the state, Robert Malay, superintendent of SAU 29, which includes the Keene School District and six others in surrounding towns, has been writing daily updates since the pandemic began affecting schools in mid-March. A pop-up window offers a link to the latest update on the SAU’s website.
Malay’s goal is to keep families and students informed about remote learning and the virus’s effects on academics, he said, but he also expands beyond that. Structured like a compact newsletter, each update lists details of resources including meal pick-ups, technology help, mental health and special education. As a fun bonus, Malay creates weekly challenges and shares the results of students’ participation, from suggestions for “unplugged” activities to a 46-page cookbook of recipes.
Listed with the resources every day is a short paragraph that reminds parents who have any concerns about remote learning to talk first to their child’s teachers. School counselors and principals are also accessible to families if needed, Malay said.
But, he added, “one of the difficulties is we live in an information era.” While people may be accustomed to getting answers instantly from a Google search, educators and school employees ask for families’ patience, since it might take them a day or two to respond to an email or other online message during these turbulent times.
“That’s what I do every morning. I’m down to only 43 unread emails,” Malay said around 9 a.m. Wednesday, “but I started at 160.”
This article and others are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.