School is a place for children to meet new people and make long lasting friendships. School is a place for children to feel comforted by the warm environment of learning. School is a place for children that feels like their second home. But most of all, school is a place where children learn the role of independence they must assume one day as an adult, as they navigate through years of schooling.
When quarantine shut down schools, one of the main questions would be the approaching fall curriculum. Sure, when the pandemic started, teachers and students reluctantly attempted fully online schooling. But, months later, schools are finally opening back up, and that’s the best way to approach learning in a global pandemic – here’s why:
Closing schools for an extended period of time can lead to learning loss. Only 1 in 3 schools, from mostly wealthy school districts, were actively monitoring their students’ progress and encouraging teachers to provide the instruction that they need during this time. Just think, when students leave for summer break, they experience the “summer slide” and lose a large portion of what they learned throughout the year. That is only after a 2-month period, so imagine the learning losses that occur when they are out of school for half a year. And, online schooling at home relies on parents, for they need to be home for their child and help them understand what they cannot grasp through technology. This can interfere with work and make an adult balance both their old job and their new job of teaching their children.
At the same time, one has to take into account the economic disparities that could be preventing low income families and students with disabilities from getting the resources that were previously provided in schools. Students with disabilities have had difficulties with absorbing the information from a screen and not in person in a school setting. Without the school, some families did not have the economic means of providing the internet access or computers needed for their child’s success. No parent wants to see their child struggle through school, but for some people during this pandemic, it wasn’t a choice.
Although not all students are affected by this, some children live in unsafe neighborhoods and homes, so school is a source of protection. At the same time, many children rely on the nutritional benefits provided in school. Thirty million children participate in the National School Lunch Program and 15 million participate in the National School Breakfast Program, showing how school meals are critical sources of healthy foods for some children.
When I was growing up, I remember recess as a break to play with my friends. Some of my fondest memories are of the most competitive games of four-square out there. When I was 3 and 4, I went to preschool and learned to write my name. For the next 13 years, my day times were filled with teachers, friends and learning. I not only learned school subjects, but I learned about myself and how to interact in a social environment, thus giving me the skills to become the person I am today – an independent college student. Taking kids, especially younger kids, away from school for these extended periods of time is not good for their attempts to develop and maintain relationships with fellow students and teachers. Children are reinforced in their emotional beliefs that if they do well, people at school will care and notice their academic achievements. It can even harm a child’s mental health so much that they start to engage in harmful behaviors, becoming angrier and more guarded, especially during a time in the world when school counselors could be very good sources of comfort.
It is understood that there is a pandemic happening, and the fear right now is that people could get sick and die. According to the CDC, children and adolescents under the age of 18 account for under 7% of COVID-19 cases and less than .1% of COVID-19 deaths. If proper precautions are taken, the rate of transmission in a school setting will be low. And the small risk that this virus poses to children, as seen in the statistics above, should be evidence enough that schools can reopen.
Keeping schools closed will only hinder the academic achievements of children. Socially and mentally, it is easier to learn in person surrounded by an environment of fellow students that could become potential friends, and a safe environment filled with the comfort of teachers who want to see their students succeed. These expectations of a school cannot be guaranteed over a screen, for the screen creates a loss in personal interaction and a loss in the willingness of a child to learn when the environment and the school schedule are taken away from them. Most importantly, the screens prevent the growth in a child’s independence.
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