The beginning of the 2021-22 school year has been a huge reminder that parents in the poorest areas on the southwest border of Texas struggle with low socio-economic status, drugs, and crime. These parents and their children face many old barriers, from communicating with teachers, school registrars and administrators, to understanding the laws when it comes to the institution of school.
Aside from not speaking English well, these students are now observed to be traumatized in three significant ways: socio-emotionally, cognitively, and academically.
They were already traumatized well before COVID-19 hit, but the pandemic has exacerbated or created new barriers for them: further lack of jobs, the strain of caring for an elderly generation, and—the big question—whether to send their children to school. Now that schools have reopened for face-to-face learning, I have witnessed the anxiety, uncertainty, and shock on their faces.
The issue of whether parents care about school has become irrelevant. Their children have not been out of their homes, much less their neighborhoods, for more than 16 months. With low immunization rates, chances are they have either endured the virus or have been carrying it. While area schools are sending out notification when children or staff have tested positive for COVID or the variant, parents are registering and then withdrawing their children from school, claiming that they will be home schooling their children. With acute stressors generating unpredictable behaviors from the parents, school is utter chaos right now.
Teachers are struggling, too. They are meeting with students who rarely or never logged on to complete assignments last year. Aside from not speaking English well, these students are now observed to be traumatized in three significant ways: socio-emotionally, cognitively, and academically. The short explanation is that kids have not seen their friends and schoolmates for a long time. They cannot stop talking or settle down; they want to play with their friends as teachers attempt to structure the classroom—the first and foremost issue of a teacher’s first month of the school year. Children are being assessed with reading and math tests, which are showing that these students, from kindergarten to grade five, have lost anywhere from a half to a full year of learning basic skills, such as learning letters and numbers, how to write their name, reading, concepts of adding and subtracting, writing, and comprehension skills such as inference. Analyzing student data is sending shock waves through the teachers at all grade levels.
So what can we do as a school community to bring back some sense of normalcy for teachers and parents? Here are some suggestions to keep the lines of communication working between school and home, and to encourage parents to re-engage successfully:
- Socially distancing, meet with the parents, face to face if possible in a group
- Explain the three trauma issues (emotional, cognitive, academic)
- Define “partnership” for them and then invite them to partner up with their children’s teacher
- Give them three specific actions they can implement at home (read with your child; count items in the kitchen, sing the ABCs, monitor time on devices, etc.)
- Communicate. Communicate. Keep the communication open via Reminder, Class Dojos, and emails. Teachers need to initiate the communication and parents need to respond and ask questions.