What’s Next? Creating a Vision for Reopening Schools
As schools reopen across the country, many parents, students, and educators are experiencing a shared sense of anxiety, uncertainty, and a loss for the routines they built during a year of remote learning. However, the pandemic provides an opportunity to identify traditional methods that work and leave behind those that don’t.
Reflecting on the Pandemic
The pandemic exacerbated a variety of already existing adversities. Questions like internet access and places for students to study only became topical because they disrupted the need to deliver remote education.
“These are questions we should’ve been asking for years, but we only started asking them now, because it really interrupted our bottom line, which was delivering some sense of remote education,” Greg Lucas, trainer at Ramapo for Children said.
This last year, one positive change was educators taking the time to meaningfully acknowledge the traumatic culmination of a global pandemic, economic downturn, and racial reckoning and its impact on the school community.
Many individuals started making connections to social-emotional learning and started creating supportive communities for those grappling with the challenging times.
“I hope we keep this idea that teaching and learning has always been relational. It has always been based on social and emotional learning, and so my hope is that we find ways to continue to humanize education moving forward,” Lucas said.
Reflecting on this last year requires identifying why some kids flourished in remote learning, what conditions worked best for students with a range of learning needs, and accountability to all students and families, especially those from historically marginalized groups.
“How do we look at what we have done, not with fear, but utilize it with lots of compassion to inform what can be?” said Evelyn Alvarez, Senior Director of Partnerships at Ramapo for Children said.
As schools confront their pre-pandemic approach, adopting a “radical reflection with compassion” mentality is necessary because it helps to constructively look at what was done and use it as a force to inform what can be instead.
Reimagining School Systems
As we reimagine the reopening of schools, educators need to consider who is represented in the decision-making process and ensure those previously left out are included in the future.
“I’m not the person that is going to make policy without having every other voice at that table. So we’re worried about this learning loss? We’re worried about how students are going to catch up? Get their voices in the room,” Rich Cardillo, trainer at Ramapo for Children said. “Ask them how they’re going to catch up, [and] how we can do things for them.”
Students should have a say in discipline codes, including those students whom interventions haven’t worked for in the past.
The other critical systems to reimagine are school structures that uphold compliance as a way to correct behaviors in the classroom. The goal is to avoid continuing to police everything in schools—that often only increases detention and suspension rates across racial lines— and doesn’t address the real problem of trauma and healing that students need.
“Schools will invest in restorative practices, they’ll invest in PBIS, they’ll invest in trauma-informed practices, but the reality is, we invest in all of those things so that we can get young people to comply. It’s never really about liberation” Lucas said. “If I can bring in a practitioner I just want those behaviors to go away.” Lucas continues that if school leaders are not often invested in healing, they are just looking for students to stop exhibiting symptoms.
“Are you just going to police kids? How will you move it to spaces, where you are being really thoughtful about listening to what young people want and creating supportive spaces and then changing policies and structures so they can be more communal?” Lucas said.
Sustainable Change and Family Engagement
Communication channels need to be changed, so it is not just information flowing out from the school, but a dialogue asking schools and parents how to support them.
When students return to school, Cardillo said “ask three pertinent questions: how can I support you? How are you and your family doing? What kind of learning will help you get through this time the best?
It won’t just require good listening, but sustained action that lasts longer than the first three months of school, and consistency and clarity running throughout the school to inform parents and students.
“I think that lack of consistency means that people have to feel like they have to be angry almost before they get a response. We can do better at that. We can prepare,” said Alveraz.
Reentering schools will be a transition for everyone in the school community who hasn’t had a structure that polices every part of their life.
“Giving ourselves grace and patience as we move into the school year recognizes that for some kids they either thrived in remote learning or didn’t, but we are really committed to taking what people say and implementing wherever possible,” Alvarez said.
You can access the Webinar here: https://vimeo.com/manage/videos/580475870
If you’re interested in learning more about Ramapo for Children services, please reach out to Lisa Tazartes, our Senior Director of Partnerships and External Affairs: firstname.lastname@example.org