Before the Pencils Are Picked Up

By Richard M. Long

Education associations can play a key role in how and when to reopen schools during the COVID-19 pandemic

The schools we know well--classrooms teeming with learning and discovery, lunch breaks, sports and extracurricular activities--now seem like the distant past. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues into the annual back-to-school season, school leaders have ventured into the uncharted territory of providing digital learning to all students and now must figure out how to safely reopen schools in some form. Schools will need help. But how? And from whom?

The Learning First Alliance has issued a new report, "Before the Pencils Are Picked Up," that discusses areas of critical needs and considerations for schools when reopening. 

Education associations can provide school professionals, leaders, and parents with critical ideas and templates about how to adapt to this new normal. Students will return to school with vastly different needs and experiences, educators will be challenged to assess and meet each students’ needs. School leaders need time to balance social distancing with the movement of students, the length of class days and issues such as transportation. Even serving lunch in the building or having 25 students in a classroom may be impossible. Perhaps most importantly, education associations can help their wider communities understand the evolution of K-12 education and how we must accelerate those changes, including support for digital learning.

Logistics are only the beginning. The trauma of this pandemic will increase the need for schools to provide mental health services at a time when, pre-pandemic, school counselors, social workers and psychologists were taxed by increased rates of depression, anxiety, and suicides.  Some students will return having experienced the loss of friends and family members; for others it is the loss of family income; and still for others it is the loss of a sense of security. We know well that children simply cannot learn well when they are emotionally overwhelmed. Schools will confront these challenges, and most will need to make connections between mental health professionals and teachers. Associations can help create the templates for better relationships between agencies to work in the best interest of students and their families.

Additionally, schools are going to need to prepare for the next wave of the pandemic. Associations are compiling and can help facilitate best practices, including unique abilities to emphasize equity, discovered during this almost instantaneous move to distance learning. 

Within these uncertainties, education associations can also provide information to school professionals, leaders and parents concerning new leadership models that emphasize teamwork, collective engagement, and sharing.

Read the report, "Before the Pencils Are Picked Up."

Richard M. Long is executive director of the Learning First Alliance. 

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second grade students on first day of school 2018