August 21, 2020
What Might Back to School Look Like During Coronavirus?
This fall, parents, and kids are adjusting to a new type of back to school season. With coronavirus concerns, schools across the U.S. are taking different approaches to back to school. Some schools are choosing in-person classes and requiring the use of face masks and other protective gear for students and teachers, while others plan to go 100% digital with distance learning (also referred to as remote learning). Still other schools are using a mix of both as the school year kicks off.
So, what will back to school look like for your kids as they prepare to return this fall? Based on the latest plans from schools around the country, here are some changes you can expect.
For many families, the first step to starting the school day is on the school bus. For kids, sitting with friends and chatting on the way to school is a great way to start the day. Now, in order to meet social distancing guidelines, bus trips will look very different. The changes may drive some families to opt for alternative transportation, including driving their kids to school or carpooling.
In this illustrated guide by the New York Times, you’ll find a breakdown of what school buses may look like with social distancing enforced. Some options include following strict social distancing guidelines that would only allow for eight students on one bus at a time, using a zigzag seating pattern that would allow more students on board, and using staggered bus schedules throughout the school day.
Students attending school in person will likely find an entirely new learning environment. Some strategies schools are considering include:
With this approach, kids would start and end school at staggered times. This would decrease the total number of students on campus at any one time, making social distancing easier. This strategy would also allow for improved social distancing on school buses. It could, however, have a negative impact on families who would have trouble managing staggered schedules, like families with multiple children.
Similar to staggered school schedules, some school districts are exploring multi-track calendars. In this model, students are divided into three to five groups. Each group takes vacation at different times, so that one-third to one-fifth of the school’s total students are on vacation at any one time. With a multi-track calendar approach, groups of students may alternate 12 weeks of school with four-week breaks, plus a four-week vacation for summer.1 Multi-track calendars offer 36 weeks of instruction time, the same as traditional 9-month calendars, with a shorter summer and longer breaks for spring and fall. With this approach, fewer students overall are in the school building at one time, which could help mitigate the risk of spreading of the virus.
Some schools are adopting a blended model, combining in-person learning and distance learning. In July, the New York Post reported that Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza of New York announced an “A/B” style plan for schools that included alternating two and three-day in-person learning weeks, with the rest of the week made up of distance learning.2 Parents also had the option to opt-in to five-day-a-week distance learning instead.
In some areas, schools may determine that in-person learning isn’t the best option. Some may instead opt for 100% distance learning.
This approach was first used in the spring when states across the country shutdown in response to the coronavirus. Shelter-in-place orders kept families at home, and students and teachers had to shift quickly to an entirely online learning environment. According to many reports, the results weren’t always good. For many students, particularly those in lower-income or homeless families, distance learning was not possible. CNN reported in May that some students in school districts in Minnesota, California, and Nevada were “completely absent” from school.3
Distance learning this fall will need to look different in order to work at its prime for these students.
Some tips to improve distance learning include:
Get students better access to internet and necessary technology.
Without the tools necessary to learn online, including Wi-Fi, tablets, laptops, or even mobile devices, students are not able to participate in class. Some schools are providing internet access and technology to students for no cost or a low fee. In some cases, however, parents may need to find cost-effective options to find access to the internet and to buy the technology themselves.
Design courses to correspond to students’ available resources.
Some students may have to share a single computer or other device with siblings or other family members, making synchronous classes challenging. Educators can create learning materials that are available at any time, so students can access them when they need them.
Provide opportunities for a variety of communication.
When students aren’t engaged with their work, it may be more difficult to help them navigate the challenges they experience. Teachers can use different communication channels, including phone calls, emails, and video calls to connect with students using the technology they can access. Non-graded learning checks, such as completing a daily log or journal, can also offer accountability and give teachers insight to how students are coping.
In a Twitter chat hosted by Adopt-a-Classroom in May, teachers offered tips to help parents navigate distance learning, too.
“Create some type of routine, let [kids] know what they will be doing for the day, give them some choices, and allow for down time. They have this at school as well in the form of recess, lunch, center/play time, etc. It does not have to be so formal,” said Twitter user @beekks1.
While schools experiment with different teaching methods in and out of the classroom, some parents may opt to home school. With so much uncertainty around the spread of coronavirus and the stress of managing school schedules, home schooling may provide stability and an opportunity for independent learning that’s focused on the way each child individually learns best.
For some families, home schooling may not be the best option. When parents work odd hours, have multiple jobs, or are caring for aging parents, the idea of becoming a full-time teacher can be daunting or impossible. The trend of microschools has resurfaced in response to coronavirus changes at schools. Microschools are independent learning environments in which students come together in small classes in the community.
Some families in the same community may choose to pool resources to create a microschool. They can be set up as either an independent home school or one in which students enrolled in the same traditional school are distance learning or participating in blended learning together.
Microschools can offer families flexibility in their approach to teaching. Parents may bring together students in similar age groups or grades to one place – for instance, the home of one of the families. Parents may take turns helping kids with assignments, while others return to their homes to work, run errands, or complete other tasks. Or, parents may bring students together and coordinate teaching as a unit, with all parents in one home at one time. Still, other families may choose to hire a tutor to operate classroom activities.
What will back to school look like for your kids this fall? Let us know by joining the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter! For more helpful content for families, be sure to visit the School of ACE blog.