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Education News Viewpoints

Publisher’s View: It’s time to really send our children back to school

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Rob Martinelli
President
Today Media Inc.

By Rob Martinelli

We are all tired of remote learning for our children and grandchildren.

We’re tired of the frustration, of the tears, and of the declining performance. Students who have always done well in school are faced for the first time with failing grades because of distractions that include poor internet connections, lack of face-to-face human contact, and even teachers who are terrific in the classroom but not as good online.

In late April, the state announced accelerated learning plans to help students catch up on learning that’s been severely impacted by the pandemic and a move to virtual learning. The plans, which anticipate a full return to the classroom this fall, focuses on training educators and providing access to independent, at-home learning resources for students.

It’s not enough. We need to think bigger and shouldn’t wait until the fall for a full return to the classroom.

When then-Gov. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island, who is now Joe Biden’s Secretary of Commerce, addressed the residents of her state a year ago, she said, “Every day that a child is out of school is a problem for that child … to those of you throwing in the towel on our kids and going virtual, I think it’s a shame … You’re letting the children down, and I don’t see any reason for it.”

She was right then and she’s even more correct today. Delaware officials are still not following the science and advocating for an immediate return to full-time, in-person learning for our students in public schools. 

Sadly, the governor and the state Department of Education have largely turned over decisions about reopening strategies to school districts and charter schools. This is the easy political decision.

It’s resulted in a variety of hybrid learning plans across the state, with thousands of students learning entirely from home and others spending between two and five days in a physical classroom.

Why not start now and insist that every public and charter school have a full return to the classroom as Gov. Raimondo insisted last summer? At the least we would identify the logistical kinks that will otherwise show up next fall and delay actual learning.

Logistically, a return to school is entirely feasible.

Gov. John Carney this week finally lifted the school bus social distancing restrictions, which will make this quick start easier so we can get students acclimated again and assess gaps. The money is also there in Delaware, with more than $400 million earmarked from the federal American Rescue Plan Act and $185 million from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

But I’m not convinced the vision is comprehensive enough. The plan is admittedly a big step in the right direction, but we need to be more focused on addressing the emotional impact on students over the past 14 months and on enabling teachers to look their students in the eye and assess their needs.

The state needs to be more prescriptive about possibly extending the current school year by a few weeks as well as mandating in-person summer school, which represents an opportunity to help students readjust and reacclimate so that we put them in the strongest possible position to return to class this fall.

Thankfully, the state acknowledges that this crisis has disproportionately affected Black, Latino, and low-income students.

Getting America’s children back into the classroom is a critical investment in their futures and an investment in our state’s workforce and economic recovery. Throughout the pandemic, mothers and fathers have put their careers on hold so they can stay home and help their children through virtual learning. It’s time we fully open classrooms to give parents the freedom to re-enter the workforce and contribute to America’s economic recovery.

In those extra weeks, teachers could support parental efforts to help students develop structured routines, exercise, and reduce their screen time. We could connect school districts with nonprofit arts organizations that can make summer learning fun, an initiative that would have an additional financial benefit to those institutions that have lost revenue. We need to think creatively and intentionally about how to make learning more equitable for Black, Latino, and lower-income communities.

And perhaps most importantly, we can also remind our children and grandchildren that they’re not alone, either at home or with other students across the globe. We can help them be better prepared to take on the next school year in person, but we need to be bolder.

Rob Martinelli is the president and CEO of Today Media, the parent company of Delaware Business Times.


 

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