Let’s just call the 2019-20 school year what it has become: a salvage operation.
Gov. Roy Cooper’s order Monday extending the closure of in-school instruction until at least May 15 effectively leaves districts with just three weeks until the year’s “final day” of instruction.
No one, least of all Cooper, is particularly happy with this latest turn of events. Working parents with young children are scrambling to find suitable child care or balance working at home with supervising educational needs. School employees from teachers down to cafeteria workers and bus drivers are trying to stay busy.
But it’s really the kids who are struggling. Children with special needs who depend on the public schools for services such as occupational and speech therapy are going without. Other children who rely on school for free or reduced-cost breakfasts and lunches might be going hungry if families aren’t getting to one of four central food-dispensing sites.
So while there is hardship here for all, now we must shift our operational thinking from rescuing the school year to salvaging what we can. School is out; creativity is in.
Learning Continuity Is Key
First, how can we keep at least a minimal level of learning going? The past week-and-a half has been a little like we’ve been snowed in for several days. Teachers have been trying hard to come up with lesson plans and stay in contact with students, but it’s been uneven at best.
Granted, instruction over a laptop isn’t the same as in a classroom, where teachers and students can interact, exchange ideas and learn from each other. But now that we’re looking at students being out of school for two months instead of two weeks, the challenge is ever greater to salvage some of the instruction that’s left.
So job one for Moore County Schools — for all of North Carolina’s public schools — is to figure out how it can continue engaging students intellectually in a structured way via computer. The federal government has freed up school districts from annual standardized testing requirements. That should come as a great relief for districts, affording more time and more room to work on material.
Of course, no digital learning can occur in communities without wireless access. This crisis has made it clear to school officials that there remains a great imbalance to digital access in their student population. The school district is working to correct that by installing hot spots and other wireless strategies. That’s thinking creatively.
Opportunity May Yet Exist
Assuming students can return to school in mid-May, how might we salvage what remains of spring traditions? Can our high schools still throw together proms? Might the school orchestras and the bands still play their spring concerts for parents and grandparents? And how will we handle graduation and promotion ceremonies?
Assuming we can all move about freely by May — and gather in numbers greater than 50 — might our schools be able to play even a couple games of girls’ soccer, or baseball or lacrosse?
We don’t need to accept that the school year is over. We might only be looking at three weeks — unless the year is elongated, and don’t think that’s not being discussed — but if we start our work in diligence now, we can salvage something for our students.
Our children are looking to us for what comes next. They crave structure and stimulation, not daily free-for-alls and hours of Fortnite on the sofa. If we lead, they will follow.
The impacts of coronavirus might alter our existing routines, but plenty of folks have shown creativity in building new routines. Restaurants have become mini-markets and take-out windows. Delivery services have popped up like pine pollen. If necessity is the mother of invention, now is a time for educators to be inventors — and salvagers. Let’s save what we can.