School will look quite different this year. Some students will spend their days in a classroom, socially distanced from peers and faces covered by a mask. Others will spend some days like that and some days learning from a distance. Some will spend all of their school time at home, “distance learning” for the foreseeable future. Still others are opting out altogether, with parents taking education into their own hands by choosing to homeschool instead.
For parents sticking with the public school system or their private school’s arrangement, worries abound, including keeping their children safe, maintaining a healthy mental state, and keeping up with their education, not to mention the responsibilities of home, family, and, in many cases, career.
I asked Lisa Collum, who’s a mother of four, an educator, and the owner of Coastal Middle and High School in Florida for her advice on handling this very unique school year. Here’s what she had to say.
The Epoch Times: As a principal and owner of a school, what are your biggest concerns about this very different school year?
Lisa Collum: My biggest concern is the safety of my students and teachers. I want to provide the best education and a sense of normalcy with opening, but I want to make sure everyone is healthy and safe.
My concern with being closed for so long was the mental health of my students. A lot of them did not do well with online learning and really needed school as their safe place. They needed the interaction, the communication, and the relationships they built with the teachers and students.
So, opening the doors [recently| was important to me. We have many safety precautions we are taking to ensure the safety of everyone. It is not easy, but it is definitely worth it to provide this for the students.
The Epoch Times: What advice would you give to teachers who are heading into uncharted waters this year?
Ms. Collum: I think it is important to remember why we became teachers. We are changing the lives of children. They need us more now than ever.
As a mom and wife, I know it is important for our teachers to stay healthy for their own families. We need to make sure our schools have a plan and are on board with specific safety precautions to keep teachers safe. There are a lot of precautions we can take. I believe we can keep our teachers safe, but the school has to be on board and abide by the plan at all times.
The Epoch Times: How can parents best support their children as they navigate the different school models being used this year?
Ms. Collum: Communicating with our children is key. Talk about it. Let them know this is affecting everyone, not just them. Remind them that everyone is in this together. We have to make sure we are communicating all of this and explaining why we wear masks, why we wash our hands, et cetera.
Also, we have to make sure we are reminding our kids frequently of these safety precautions. This is new for everyone. Remind them to wash their hands, remind them to wear their masks, and remind them to change their clothes after attending school.
The biggest thing for parents is to make sure our children don’t see our frustration and worries. Do not let the children take on that burden and think they are a cause of it. See the positive in everything and share it with them. For example, online school means more time with Mommy! This is a lot for everyone, but especially for our children.
The Epoch Times: How can teachers and students best succeed with distance learning?
Ms. Collum: It is crucial to develop a system and routine. Train the students on the daily procedures and systems, how to submit assignments, how to communicate, et cetera. This is the same as being in the classroom.
The first week or two is learning the way the class will be run. I think the best way to teach is through live lessons. Kids need to see their teachers and peers. They need to participate in group discussions. They cannot be expected to listen to recorded lessons all day and do everything independently. As much as possible, teachers should try to resume a normal school day through the computer.
For parents, make sure students are set up with a school area in the house and have all of the necessary supplies.
The Epoch Times: Many parents are still deciding which option to choose—in-person schooling, distance learning, some combination of those, or homeschooling. What do you recommend they consider in making that decision?
Ms. Collum: There are so many factors that go into this decision. It is ultimately up to the family situation. If someone is immune-compromised, they should choose distance learning. That is the best option for families to make sure they are extra safe but still getting an education.
Other families should think about their work schedules and how well their students learn online. If one or both parents don’t have to work, it may be worth it to try homeschooling. This is an opportunity to see if your child enjoys a non-traditional classroom way of learning. Who knows, they may flourish and do better than being in school.
However, parents who work full-time and are not able to be with their kids at home should choose in-school learning if it is available. Kids need supervision and support, no matter the age.
The Epoch Times: What are your greatest hopes for the coming school year?
Ms. Collum: After much preparation and planning, I hope our online learning is bigger and better. I think most schools were thrown into online learning with no resources and training in the spring and were not able to provide the best learning experience. Now we have had time to prepare and learn. This online learning experience will be new, better, and overall provide a classroom experience unlike before.
I also hope that schools that do open are able to stick with their safety precautions and keep everyone safe and healthy. I want to continue to see more and more schools open to provide in-person learning for students. I hope that we will see some families in school, and some families from home, and all families enjoying it and receiving a great education.