The educational system has had a facelift with the introduction of a virtual learning environment. As the school year progresses, concerns continue to mount. From access to technology to fears of social ineptness, teachers and parents are working overtime to bridge the gap between distance learning and normalcy.
With dramatic shifts in presentation from district to district, the overall set-up of virtual learning is presenting challenges for both students and parents. Being sure each student has the tools needed to succeed, districts have made accommodations to ensure each child is ready for the school year.
Misha Stallworth, a Board Member for Detroit Public School Community District, says the district provided its students with laptops and access to Wi-Fi to aid in the virtual learning experience.
“We worked pretty quickly to procure these devices over the summer. The challenge is reconnecting with parents to be sure they pick them up,” Stallworth explains. “I think making sure students have access to education is most important right now.”
Over and above access to resources, questions center on how students will fair this school year. Combining the pressures of virtual learning and the stress of a national health crisis, children are being asked to adapt to a fast-changing environment in record time.
As most high school- and middle school-aged children have become accustomed to the rigor of a standard school day, elementary school children are being faced with learning an immense amount of material in a short amount of time.
“Younger children tend to have shorter attention spans, so many activities must be interesting, short and straight to the point,” Mine’ Covington, a pre-kindergarten teacher, explains. “Older students are more self-sufficient, so they can log into computers independently, navigate certain websites and links, and can read and write better.”
Though students continue to adapt to distance learning, the aspect of social interaction and relationship building comes into question. Markiesha Johnson, LLMSW, a Clinical Therapist with over 10 years of expertise in the field of Social Work, says children may experience adverse effects if exposed to social distancing for an extended period.
“Research indicates that social distancing should have minimal impact on children, but depending on the length of time, long-term isolation for children can have long-lasting effects on their social skills and can pose some risks,” Johnson says.
Traditionally, adolescents learn communication and socialization skills from their peers. Spending most of their time in a structured school environment, children gain key problem-solving techniques and build friendships. As the pandemic continues to alter normalcy, children are now spending less face-to-face time with their peers.
“Socialization for children is a vital part of child development. Children learn daily life skills just off interactions with peers and adults and being deprived of this opportunity can cause social and
developmental delays,” Johnson shares.
Although the pandemic has altered face-to-face interactions, some believe students will not be gravely impacted by the effects of social distancing.
“I don’t think children are deprived from social development. Kids are resilient and adaptable. This is a new way of being,” Stallworth says.
Aside from the social ramifications, worries of intellectual impacts on students are also at the forefront. Children who have been diagnosed with a learning disability could face challenges different from those of their peers.
“Children with special needs and learning disabilities may be struggling the most during this global health crisis,” Johnson says. “Also, children who are diagnosed with ADHD or ADD may have difficulty with virtual learning during this pandemic. Sitting in front of a computer screen for hours at a time is not ideal for children with these diagnoses.”
Cases of anxiety and depression could also be on the rise with students. Displaying changes in typical behavior may be a sign of an underlying issue of stress.
“Depending on the child’s developmental stage, they may not be able to verbalize when they are feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed,” Johnson says. “Instead, they may indicate that they have a stomachache or headache, which may cause parents to overlook the underlying symptoms that could be causing their behavior changes. Some common behavioral signs of stress and anxiety in children are difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, aggression, short temper and voluntary isolation/withdrawal.”
To help ease the adjustment parents are urged to have regular conversations with their children allowing them to speak openly about the pandemic and virtual learning.
“It’s okay to validate their feelings and let them know that we as parents understand their frustration. Being understood and normalizing their feelings and emotions can help them process their feelings in a healthy and effective way,” Johnson says.
Although fears climb for this virtual school year, students continue to adapt to their new normal.
“I have seen children react so gracefully. They are still happy with spending quality time with family, staying active, getting work done, and doing normal day-to-day activities,” Covington says.
Maintaining a sense of normalcy will be key in helping students adjust this school year. Despite its challenges, the pandemic has provided the opportunity for parents and students to spend more time together.
“The pandemic may have put a hold on certain aspects of our lives, but we must keep moving forward and focus on what we can control,” Covington says.