A majority of students worldwide ended the 2019/2020 K-12 school year sitting behind a computer in their homes, interacting with their teachers via Zoom or through a Google Meet rather than inside their classroom.
Our K-12 education system faced many challenges and had to implement split-second solutions to ensure students could continue to learn and finish the school year through a computer screen. A collaborative effort with our educators, administrators, families, and the Board of Education helped to navigate the challenges and implement practical solutions.
When we were all virtual, ensuring all students can access the class material, no matter their social and economic status, was the first challenge. Many schools had to purchase Apple iPads or Google Chromebooks and internet hotspots to get students up and running.
Converting in-person lessons and education standards to a virtual arena within a few days was another challenge. Teachers worked long days and weekends to transform their remaining lessons to a virtual setting. Teaching math, science, and language courses virtually were a little less challenging than teaching theater, art, physical education, or music classes.
Student engagement in person is a challenge for even the most skilled teacher, but adding the virtual component forced teachers to become more creative. The use of teacher assistants and counselors helped find those missing students from the Brady Bunch opening credits screen of Zoom or Google Meets.
Another reality that schools faced was ensuring free and reduced lunch students still received food when school was not in session. According to a recent study by UNICEF, one in five American children lives below the poverty line; over 2.9 million students live in households where they are unsure when they might get their next meal; and around 30 million students around the country, qualify for free or reduced cost school lunches through a Federal program called the National School Lunch Program. Food drives and donations proved successful in meeting many of these students’ needs. As the school year begins, districts will provide sack lunch drop-off and pick-up services to students.
Many graduations, which are a milestone for K-12 students, were completed virtually, lacking the traditional cheering and applause all so common at these events.
The constant roller coaster of COVID-19 cases throughout the country and locally through the summer, school districts were caught in an ongoing state of flux; return or not return in the fall. With the new school year upon us, schools are opting for several options to meet students' educational needs. Some school districts will begin virtually in hopes of moving to a traditional classroom setting pre-COVID-19; others will begin using a hybrid system (opting to allow students to be virtual or in-person), and finally, some school districts will return to all in-person classes. Whatever the method of educating students during our new reality, K-12 teachers have become more creative and have a few more teaching strategies in their educator toolbox.
Steven Rettke, PHR, SHRM-CP
HR/Operations Manager, Brentwood School District