This strange school year is drawing to a close. There are many unknowns about what August will look like when students ostensibly go back to school campuses, but kids and their parents may still be reeling from the effects of two to three months of distance learning conducted amidst extreme physical and social distancing.

Many parents (myself included) are increasingly anxious and concerned about their child’s progress during distance learning and the implications that may have both socially and academically next school year. Dr. Andrea Ogonosky reports that districts across Texas are fielding lots of phone calls from parents asking for either grade retention for their child or a special education evaluation. I personally have not made that call to my district, but I certainly feel a sense of relief when she informs me that I’m not alone in my worry.

Dr. Ogonosky reminds us that there are two concerns with these requests from parents. One: Grade retention is a notoriously bad fix for any problem; the data just doesn’t support any efficacy in a student’s overall progress. Two: Regarding special education evaluations, many may be ruled out because there would be way too many unanswered questions and incomplete data due to COVID-19 circumstances. It literally would not be a use of valuable time (testing may need to be repeated later when more consistent information became available). However, these ideas are a hard sell to parents who are desperate to ease the back to school transition for their family.

So Dr. Ogonosky has some ideas to help both schools and parents as we grapple with returning to school under a cloud of unknowns.

First of all, she has advice for school personnel, and it boils down to being proactive and getting out in front of parents’ anxiety. She suggests that principals create a newsletter or other official written message to share with parents before the official end of this school year. This message can include acknowledgements such as:

  • We’re all in this together.
  • We share the same concerns about students’ access to instruction this past spring.
  • We share the same concerns about the rigor of that instruction.
  • We share the same concerns about whether students participated in any of that instruction.

Then it’s important to further stress that this has not been a typical instructional period, and there was not enough instructional rigor. The important point to emphasize is that all students were impacted. So those parents who worry that their child will be dismally behind (like me) can be reminded that all students are in the same boat. Assure families that districts are working very hard and more resources are coming. The 2020 – 2021 school year will begin by meeting students where they’re at by building on their current foundation, compensating for missed instruction, and filling in existing gaps.

This written communication can go home to families at the end of the year with student report cards, and it should serve as a friendly, positive message that everything is going to be okay. Parents will need lots of reassurance. Please give it to them.

Next, Dr. Ogonosky has helpful guidance for parents.

  1. Keep working with what the district has provided! Do the best you can with what you have and keep it up over the summer. Districts will continue to provide instructional support with online learning through enrichment activities. Stay on track, and trust that the school will be there to take care of you.
  2. Focus on building inner strength (resiliency!) with your child. They will bounce back from difficulties much better! Resilience is built by developing and strengthening coping skills. Social distancing does not always equal isolation, but it can be a significant stressor. Most of us will bounce back, but it is imperative that parents model positivity around their child as much as possible when tackling challenges. Display positive reactions to things by saying “I can do this!” instead of “this is too hard.” Many of us are experiencing tremendous difficulties right now. When you need to problem-solve a significant adult problem, do it out of sight and earshot of your child so that they primarily see you exhibiting a positive, can-do attitude.
  3. On a similar note, parents can take advantage of teachable moments to label the feelings and emotions that we are all experiencing. Things are hard right now. Show your kids that sometimes you have fear or anxiety. Label it. Talk about it. Let them label their feelings and talk about them, too. Show them that facing difficulties can be hard and scary, but it can be done.
  4. Keep expressing love and gratitude! Ratchet up your praise to your child. Fill up their emotional piggy bank with all the good stuff. This will provide a buffer for when days are hard, especially when we go back to school and things may be different from expected.
  5. A healthy body fosters a healthy mind. Maintain daily exercise, good nutrition, and adequate sleep for your family. This, too, will help build resiliency.
  6. Some of us have had to turn our lives upside down to accommodate distance learning for our kids. We may have had to put way more work into pulling it off than the kid did. But that doesn’t mean that the child’s achievements are ours to celebrate. The kid did the work, and their achievements belong to them alone, no matter what herculean efforts it took on the parent’s part to make home schooling viable. Let your child take all the credit.

As we transition back to school, whatever that may look like, resiliency can become the great equalizer as we all try to figure this out. Schools need to communicate strength and calm to parents so that parents can be strong and calm for their family. And parents need to build resiliency in their children so that kids can better cope with the stressors and insecurities that returning to school may amplify.

Dr. Ogonoksy reminds us that we’ve all done an amazing job in an unprecedented situation. There have been enormous ups and downs, and there will certainly be more to come. We are all on a unique and difficult journey right now, but we are all in it together.

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