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Preparing for the school year

Typically, in July parents are beginning to look at school supply lists and buying school clothes for their children, and children are trying to convince their parents that their wants are actually needs. However, this year parents are perplexed because they do not know the right answer for their family, and children are trying to figure out what’s next.

If you are like me, I know what path I will be choosing for my children, but that does not mean I am comfortable or even prepared for that path. Each decision is extremely personal, and I want to encourage you to not listen to the naysayers on social media that might tell you your path is wrong for your child. We were all forced into virtual school in the spring and no one was prepared, and we all limped through the end thinking school would be back to normal in the Fall. But it isn’t back to normal and there continues to be just as much confusion and unknowns as there were in March.  

Local school districts began preparing for on-campus and virtual school a few weeks ago, and many of us received calls from the school district trying to determine which children would attend which path. However, this was before the recent spike in coronavirus cases across the state of Texas. Now, we are listening to the news and trying to figure out the advice from the CDC. The Texas Education Agency released their requirements as well, and all of this must be considered while trying to do what we can for our children. If you have foster children, it is a harder decision because you do not know this child as well and how they will respond.

That is a lot on our shoulders as parents.  

Buckner Children and Family Services wants to digest the recommendations from TEA, as well as incorporate information that will help prepare ourselves and children from hard places for the beginning of school in August. The TEA has fully funded two different types of learning opportunities: classroom and virtual. The TEA wants to ensure that academic accountability and attendance has more accountability than the Spring, so they have different check points for each instructional path.

  • Virtual – Synchronous Instruction: This will require all participants to be present at the same time virtually. If children are in 3-5th grade, they are required to have 180 minutes or 3 hours of instruction time compared to children in 6-12th grade, who are required to have 240 minutes or 4 hours of instruction time.  Children from PK-2nd grade are not eligible for synchronous instruction per the TEA. Your school district may choose to have a virtual option for early education, but it would not be funded by the TEA.
  • Virtual – Asynchronous Instruction: This instructional path is self-paced and does not require all participants to be engaged at the same time. However, there will be daily check-ins to determine engagement and attendance.  
  • Blended Learning: This instructional path could be for the specialized classes where the student would need to come to the campus to complete one class and other classes could occur virtually.  
  • Classroom: This will be traditional school, but the TEA has indicated all children 10 years old or older are required to wear a mask during the day. There would be multiple hand-washing stations and set times for hand-washing to minimize the risk of transmitting the virus. However, if the school is closed due to contamination or an exposure, participants with this instructional path would go into the virtual instructional path. The teachers and staff are required to complete a screening per day. It is also encouraged for schools to complete screenings on children. The school will attempt to keep windows open for open air circulation in the school building and the desks will be arranged to adhere to social distancing as much as possible. The TEA is also encouraging staggered start times.  

As I was reading the TEA guidelines, I was concerned for the children who have experienced trauma – their environments need to be one where they feel safe. The unknowns of the last few months have created a lot of fear for parents, but also for our children as they are watching our reactions. If our children are fearful at school, then they will be fatigued, hungry, thirsty and seek control to create their own felt safety. If a child is scared, then he or she can’t grasp the lessons in the classroom. If this fear and unpredictability takes place in the home, a child’s capacity to learn virtually is severely diminished. The fear will become the bully in the child’s life, encouraging poor behavior.  

After a child watches a scary movie, it is easy to comfort them and say everything is going to be OK. But when you don’t know the future, it is hard to comfort a scared child. However, as a parent it is our responsibility to produce felt safety. 

 A child develops felt safety by their caregivers providing the following: 

  • Consistent, positive praise for good choices 
  • Unprompted, nurturing affection 
  • Appropriate environment to meet sensory needs 
  • Showing respect for personal space 
  • The use of simple, direct language when introducing new concepts 
  • Proper structure to the school day (our kids never need to guess what will happen next)  

If you choose the virtual instructional path, remember that even if a child has felt safety with you in the parent/child relationship they may not have it in the parent/child/teacher relationship. And if you are like me and trying to work at the same time, then mindfulness, self-awareness and patience might not be on the top of your priority list. However, our children need us, and it is our job to be mindful and responsiveness during this pivotal time of learning. 

The virtual-synchronous instruction will help our children with a predictable schedule and traditional classroom transitions. Keep in mind though that your child’s relationship with the teacher will be different, leading to a needed increase in responsiveness and sensitivity to his or her needs. 

If you decide to send your child to the school campus for instruction, we want you to have an active role with helping the teacher learn your child so they can produce felt safety in their classroom. This teacher has a blank slate with your child. As a parent, we are the best advocates for our child’s needs, even in the classroom. 

Make notes of how your child responds when afraid. Does this look like fight, flight or freeze? What specific behaviors do you see? What is a positive, nurturing response that helps our child regulate? This information, when shared with teachers, is fundamental to the building of trust and felt safety between our child and teacher. And when our child feels safe, we get good learning.

Finally, remember your child is watching your every move. If you appear calm about the path of instruction, then they will feed off you. If you need help with finding that calm spirit, then practice some deep breathing, go for a walk, find humor and seek God’s peace.

Visit buckner.org/foster-care-adoption to learn more about helping vulnerable children.

Written by Andi Harrison, regional director for foster care and adoption for Buckner International in North Texas and the Rio Grande Valley. 

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