I am a proponent of gathering as much information from credible sources as possible to discern any policy decision. The American Academy of Pediatrics is often referenced in my assessments. I shared this article last month and highly recommend any district parent read it. It was published before the IPSD 204 hybrid plan took effect and is a great insight into the AAP advocacy for return to in-person learning. A PDF version is viewable below:
Regardless of the whens/hows/ifs of a return to in-person learning, the impact on our kids is undeniable. Even before I announced my candidacy, I was concerned about the long-lasting impact of the pandemic on all of our students and shared as much with district leadership:
Email sent to IPSD Board and Superintendent Talley
October, 11, 2020
Greetings Board Members of I.P.S.D. 204,
In August, I provided comments during the board meeting regarding our children’s feelings on the back-to-school plans and also my perspective. With tomorrow’s deadline to choose between remote and hybrid, I appreciate the opportunity to provide a more current viewpoint. (For reference, we opted for the original hybrid at start of school and maintain that preference going forward. We did withdraw our daughter from remote Kinder in Sept.-she was incredibly disillusioned with the routine, as was I-so I am homeschooling her until hybrid begins next month.)
I greatly appreciate the time, effort, and discernment put forth to make any plan in the midst of a pandemic. Please know we are grateful to your duties. As you receive the responses to the most recent plan, I want to share a segment of an article below from the Economic Policy Institute. You are likely well-versed in the various topics of discussion yet, I want to highlight the part below which talks about the “whole-child”.
When schools closed in March, the clock began ticking on the inevitable decline in our children’s education. No matter how many good intentions were put forth by the district, parents, government, etc. the reality is undeniable everywhere: relative decline. The degrees of decline are largely subjective (it is all relative) yet are no doubt visible in surveys you’ve administered. Quantifying the decline will take time. Yet, this downfall has less to do, in my view, with curriculum but rather, with social and emotional regression that came from a traumatic change in routine and education.
Going forward, I hope the district takes into consideration that the pandemic has created a real opportunity to adapt to the new world in which we live by focusing on the “whole-child". The article says it best:
As we slowly move forward during the pandemic and we return to “normal,” it is going to be more important than ever that we do not let this recognition of whole-child development fall away and revert to a narrow focus on academics.
I know the metrics of test scores have a place in critiquing standards. However, an unbalanced, anxious, and depressed student will be hard-pressed to score straight A’s, if one at all. Please consider the importance of students gaining confidence and skill in the wake of this pandemic by expanding the in-person option to a full time return to school as soon as possible. If our 3 children can go to school for 2 or 4 hours a day with the hybrid model, the virus will not discriminate between that and another hour or another day.
Our schools can do this, you can do this, and our kids NEED it. Bring them back full time and give all 204 students the chance for a whole-child development.
Thank you for taking the time to read this e-mail, the snippet below, and/or the full EPI article.
The “whole-child” development that occurs at school was also interrupted during the pandemic
For children, going to school is not just about learning reading and math: it’s also about developing the social and emotional skills critical to succeeding in life. School closures eliminated some of these critically important aspects of school beyond academic activity, such as the development that occurs through personal relationships among students and between students and teachers, after-school activities that support children’s mental and emotional well-being and skills development, and a sense of routine. In addition to the cessation of their normal activities at school, during the pandemic, children have lost in-person contact with relatives and friends and have witnessed many sobering daily life realities, from parents who may be unsure where the next meal or rent payment will come from or who are working risky jobs in order to make ends meet, to family members fearing that loved ones are in danger of serious illness or even death. Overall, the crisis has helped highlight the importance of other skills that are often overlooked in the school context, but that should be nurtured as part of going to school and that will merit more attention in the aftermath of the pandemic.
A range of skills often referred to as socioemotional or noncognitive skills—including creativity, tolerance, persistence, empathy, resilience, self-control, and time management—have long been neglected in education policy, which has tended to follow the so-called cognitive hypothesis (Tough 2012; Ravitch 2011, 2020; Rothstein, Jacobsen, and Wilder 2008).25 These noncognitive skills are deemed lower priorities in academic contexts—including skills that children typically lagging behind could have an edge in—and their integration in the usual components of learning and teaching is far from standard. As a result, when decisions about curriculum, standards, and evaluation are made, socioemotional skills tend to be the last on the priority list and the first on the chopping block, while testing highly on math and reading—skills that tend to be correlated with having more educated parents and higher household incomes—is richly rewarded in school, furthering “deficit” narratives (faulty messages about who can and cannot succeed in school, and about what succeeding in school means).
For sure, parents and teachers have long been attuned to the broad range of life skills that their students need to develop, but this crisis has sharpened that focus. The sudden need for children across the board to adapt to uncertain and rapidly changing circumstances and to cope with new levels of trauma make it all the more urgent to address this disparity between what parents and teachers understand about the breadth of skills critical to child development and systems that focus on testing a narrow set of cognitive skills. For example, resilience—the ability to adapt to and thrive in different situations—along with persistence and self-control have gained new recognition as important life skills during these months of the pandemic. Children transitioned to online learning overnight and have had to follow classes without the direct supervision of the teacher or the interactions with other students, which requires a higher than usual degree of self-control and persistence. Creativity is another skill that likely is serving children well during this crisis: Students who find new ways to keep themselves engaged and to make forced isolation productive are benefiting, while their peers who are easily bored are losing ground.
As we slowly move forward during the pandemic and we return to “normal,” it is going to be more important than ever that we do not let this recognition of whole-child development fall away and revert to a narrow focus on academics. Doing so would cause harm on several fronts. First, it would ignore and potentially exacerbate the trauma that many children are experiencing. Second, it would put low-income students even further behind—both by weighing heavily the areas of learning that they have been least able to access and by failing to recognize the natural variation in students’ strengths across a broader range of skills, or “patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behavior” (Borghans et al. 2008). And finally it would miss a unique opportunity to better balance what schools can do. Noncognitive skills are demonstrably as important as other cognitive skills when it comes to ensuring that children will thrive both in school and later in life. Moreover, since academic and socioemotional skills develop in tandem, and in recognition of the added challenges during the pandemic, it will be more critical to approach skills development holistically and make teaching and nurturing the whole child central, rather than marginal (see García 2014 and García and Weiss 2016 for a summary of this literature).
In March, our children went from consistent school routines, activities, and social freedoms to almost overnight, having their communities in total lockdown. They have been isolated from loved ones, missed events and activities, and are now wearing masks everywhere they go. Of course the past year will impact their health in ways that will line a vast spectrum.
How do we as parents, educators, and a community best support them? It's a great question and one I hope to have an opportunity to address if elected to the board.
Mental health topics have fortunately received more attention at the school level in recent years. The semantics may be interchanged between "social-emotional health" or "mental health" but it all means the same thing: our students' well-being outside of academic performance. Any youth struggling with their mental/social/emotional health is going to be hard-pressed to perform academically, especially after this past year.
With Spring assessments happening soon, I appreciate the opportunity for educators to use those benchmarks to see where students will need additional support/intervention. These assessments ought not to, however, penalize any student but should be used to unite students, educators, and parents in the name of helping our youth advance in their academic progress.
It would be great to see a district-wide theme of "Spring Forward" (oh, the dreaded time change!) that will arm our community with not just academic support but also emotional and social support. Leveraging PTAs to lead this initiative would be a wonderful way to welcome participation in anything from small group discussions at local libraries to zoom discussions with licensed clinicians. Not only is the well-being of our students imperative but also that of parents, educators, and staff. What better way to instill healthy practices in our students than modeling it ourselves?
Together we can as my campaign bullet points state "adapt", "advance", and "achieve".
I would love to hear from any parents, staff, and educators on what you would like to see offered within the district to address the "whole-child" going forward. Please email me at email@example.com
Also, I continue to gather anonymous input on NEXT STEPS at the survey on the homepage. Results will be shared March 6th; one month prior to the April 6th election.