There is no shortage of opinions about how best to prepare our children to run the world these days. But regardless of where any of us stand on approaches to teaching, face-to-face learning, virtual school, and the diverse range of other issues that surround COVID in the classroom, there is one thing we can all agree on. The healthier our children are, the greater their opportunity to learn, no matter where learning is set to take place.
A School Based Alliance
GraceMed and Wichita-area educators have worked together to get healthcare closer to the classroom over a number of years. We now operate clinics on the grounds of six Wichita schools and one school in the Derby district. Our experience together has taught us a lot about what it takes to make a meaningful impact on student health.
A National Plan for Action
The big picture of student health and management began to gel into a model as far back as 1987. That was when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defined the Coordinated School Health Program around five core objectives to keep kids healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. More recently the model has been expanded into 10 areas of focus that are considered integral to achieving those objectives. This new vision for coordination of health resources in schools is known as the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Model (WSCC).
The model was originally developed with a focus on adolescents. But it really describes an environment for learning that nurtures the health of every student. When it is applied as a template for the way schools, parents and communities work together toward that common goal, the work gets more consistently effective district by district.
In the broadest sense, students who are well-equipped to learn are healthy in both mind and body. While nature can certainly play a role on both sides of that fence, socioeconomic factors can also have a significant impact on the classroom fitness of students. In our State of Grace news magazine and our online Journal, we continue to tackle health-related components of your child’s ability to learn. In this post, we’re exploring a topic that has been getting more and more attention in schools of late: the coronavirus and its impact on a student’s mental and emotional state of health.
A Pandemic Changes Everything
No one expected COVID-19 to become the worldwide pandemic that it has. When schools shut down for the safety of the staff and children, the effects on learning were immediate. Some children and parents rose to the occasion and were able to adapt to virtual learning. But others, sadly, were left behind.
While Bill Gates is busy trying to “reimagine” education, the truth is that technology has the potential to further amplify the disparities that we already see in communities. When we look at the parents who suddenly became teachers, the socioeconomic advantages of having technology, time and higher education become indicators of the student’s potential success.
Many schools have managed to provide the essentials for virtual learning, a laptop and some type of internet access. This is not enough for many families. While the millennial generation has grown up with the internet, the truth is that having the internet and fully understanding how to use the technology are two different things. Accessing email and using Google are easy to this generation, but knowing how to spot phishing attempts and staying away from the scam websites is not so obvious. Likewise, unless they have had classes covering specific programs like Microsoft Office, they do not possess the skills necessary to guide children through complex learning tools like Quizlet, OneNote and Dreambox, all programs that teachers use for enhanced learning.
The lower the income level, the more likely parents are to hold jobs that do not offer remote work opportunities. And, many families rely on both incomes to make ends meet. This presents two problems when it comes to virtual learning: no one is available to guide the virtual learning and no one is there to keep an eye on younger children who require adult supervision or child care.
In the past, families were more localized so a grandparent might be able to step in while parents work. Families are now much more spread out geographically making this option less likely. The pandemic also turns an outside friend or relative into a health risk because the coronavirus can be carried without any outward symptoms.
Teaching children of any age also requires that you have the education to understand what is being taught. There are many capable adults who, given the time, would be able to handle the teaching duties. But there are also a good number who may not have done well in school or graduated. How are these parents going to teach beyond their level of understanding? This problem adds to the online learning conundrum.
Beyond the socioeconomic divides there is also the problem of addressing the mental health, social skills and the lack of extracurricular activity that children would normally enjoy as part of the school experience. School provides many opportunities to learn to relate to others unlike yourself. Sports, drama, music and other clubs provide the experience of belonging and freedom of expression. The traditional learning experience doesn’t require excessive screen time which has been shown to increase anxiety in children, even before the pandemic.
Back to the core objectives of the CDC’s Coordinated School Health program. While virtual learning may keep kids safe from the coronavirus, there is no guarantee that they will be informed, engaged, supported or challenged. School is often the watchdog when it comes to spotting potential mental or physical health issues. Teachers are among the first to notice the signs of anxiety, ADHD and dyslexia. They know when a child doesn’t seem to be feeling well. They are also mandated reporters who can tell when a family may be in need of assistance or intervention. Without face-to-face school, what happens to these children who are at risk?
The critical need is for a high functioning partnership between parents and teachers. How will this be addressed in a way that keeps children healthy and safe while supporting parents in their different socioeconomic situations?
In the final analysis, teaching and learning are both creative enterprises. A student’s encounter with knowledge is individual. The best teachers know how to innovate and customize that encounter to its best effect, accounting for socioeconomic differences that reach beyond the borders of a lesson plan. COVID-19 does present new hurtles to overcome in that pursuit, but it also underscores the need for parents to partner with their students’ teachers. It also clarifies as never before the fundamental reality that the health and well-being of our students must always be Job One in the effort to develop their minds and help them achieve academic success.
Additional reading on this topic: