Family Perspectives

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The editors recently asked families to share their insights on their children’s school experience during the start of the 2020–2021 school year. We posed two questions:

What is an action or practice your child’s school has done that has helped your children and family feel belonging, significance, or fun so far this year? How has your child’s school supported their social-emotional learning needs during the opening of this school year?

Here are their responses.

My daughter absolutely loves how her principal announces over the intercom every morning how he cares for the students and is so excited to see what they are going to accomplish that day. The principal also sends a message on Instagram every morning to the distant learning students telling them how much he misses them, including maybe a joke here or there, and to accomplish great things for the day! During Zoom calls, my daughter’s teacher always lets the students know she is there for them (via one-on-one Zoom), any time of the day they need help or just someone to talk to.

The Hoyt Family, Sparks, NV
(Public school, hybrid learning)

Our middle schooler and high schooler enjoy the ice breakers the teachers are using, playing Kahoot! for more engagement, and offering understanding for how they might be feeling throughout this challenging time. Our elementary school kiddos are loving Fun Friday Freeze dance, movement breaks, and allowing snacks. They also like that the teacher reinforces that they should be on mute when someone else is talking.

The Cathcart-Gill Family, Schwenksville, PA
(Public school, 100% virtual learning)

The teachers are very in tune to the girls’ emotional well-being. They ask them daily how they are doing and they send out correspondence tailored to support for counseling, if needed. From the beginning of the pandemic they have been very empathetic to the girls and have started classes with “How are you, girls, we are here for you.” The high school provides a speaker series regarding topics and an upcoming one is “Under Pressure: How to Cope With Challenging Times.” I think the school does an amazing job with facilitating support for their students.

The Coleman Family, Dresher, PA
(Catholic private academy, hybrid learning)

Their teachers show a lot of empathy. They know and understand that many of the students are having a hard time adjusting pandemic.

The Benson Family, Raeford, NC
(Hoke County Schools, hybrid learning)

In my daughter’s toddler class, they begin every morning with a song called “The More We Get Together.” In this song, they say every child’s name and the children light up when they hear their names by their teachers. These students are two and three years old, so holding their attention for sustained periods is tough, but those teachers are INCREDIBLY thoughtful and creative. They also send home materials for the kids to make items they will use virtually. For example, they sent home a few paper plates and some crayons. Our daughter used the crayons to decorate the plates, we placed dried rice inside, stapled it together, and it was a music shaker! Her teachers invited the students to bring their shakers to their class and make music together while they sang songs. It was so sweet!

The Gheen Family, Los Angeles, CA
(Independent school, 100% virtual learning)

Their teacher uses games and more activities than usual. They are always inquiring about students and how things are. They always show concern when kids are absent. The teachers make sure every student gets to participate so they do not feel like they are on the outside or not a part of the class. They let students feel like they are someone who matters and should never be forgotten.

The McNeil Family, Wilson, NC
(Public charter school, 100% virtual learning)

I have heard teachers invite students to participate either by saying something on mic or adding an emoji to the chat. My daughter felt safe enough to participate through the chat, and after a couple of days turned her mic on. I am also hearing the teacher refer to her dog as the class’s special guest. I think this builds a sense of community for the class.

The Ott Family, Prince William County, VA
(Public school, 100% virtual learning)

My son’s first grade teacher created a video of the classroom and of the new safety routines and shared it before school started.

The Derus Family, Wayzata, MN
(Independent school, in-person learning)

We are in a hybrid model for school. My middle son goes to school two days a week, two days are independent remote days, and one day is a live virtual day. One thing that has been a positive is that the school live streams morning announcements, which include not only the day’s announcements but also students being recognized for engaging in above-and beyond behaviors every day. So even on those days he is not in school we can still start our day as a school community and be involved in some of those positive announcements! For my oldest son, who is autistic, the school was able to address my son’s needs in an individual sense. He is a part of an 8:1:3 classroom, and because of his needs and the small nature of the class, he is able to go four days a week. Which, for my son, does an enormous amount for his mental health, having that structure and routine, in addition to working on so many social pieces that sometimes get lost at home. So I appreciated the district looking at those self-contained classrooms as an individual situation.

The Urlacher Family, Rochester, NY
(Public school, hybrid learning)

My son’s teacher started the year with an email to families asking us to share something unique or special about our children. The class spends time doing weekly individual reflections, which include things that went well and things that were challenging. These are shared in Seesaw, so it’s a nice conversation starter at home and supports mindfulness.

The Sheridan Family, Bangkok, Thailand
(NIST International School, in-person; virtual for students unable to return onsite)

The teachers have been very understanding of any hiccups in the process and have taken the time to explain them. They have been extremely responsive to email correspondence. Our girls have expressed being “seen” on-screen by their teachers. The teachers use Pear Deck, Imagine Learning, and Kahoot!, which the girls really like and find entertaining.

The Bryant Family, Fairfax, VA
(Public school, 100% virtual learning)

We were surprised to find out, just before the school year began, that we were assigned to a long-term substitute instead of the permanent teacher we were expecting. The sub has turned out to be a wonderful teacher, and she took time during the very first meeting to go through and introduce herself to each student, asking each kid’s preference on name or nickname (Pat versus Patrick, etc.). She has been very patient with the kids as they learn to adjust to the online format, and allows them extra time to get used to completing work in this new format. Her patience the first few weeks has been incredibly helpful—rather than expecting the kids to hit the ground running as they might in a traditional school year setup. My boys have had lots of “drop-ins”—from the school counselor, principal, and learning assistants—on their virtual meetings. I think that seeing a variety of faces other than just their primary teacher shows the kids that there is still a community, even though we are learning from home. Interactions with the school’s new speech therapist were particularly positive. She has made meetings fun and spent a lot of time getting to know the kids and their various interests so that she can work those into their classes together. The kids’ primary teacher also asked the children to put together a brown paper “get to know me” bag filled with five items that explain what makes them unique. The boys had fun putting together their bags with their favorite books, stuffed animals, and other special personal items.

The Ridgeway Family, Montgomery County, PA
(Public school, 100% virtual learning)

Classroom teachers lead morning meetings to build a sense of strong community in the classroom. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, students work in pods of five. Students are assigned a color-band group (wrist band) and move through the day with their group. At recess, each group is assigned a zone to play in, which is building friendships with students they may not normally connect with. These groups change every two weeks and have been a unique way of following safety guidelines, while still supporting SEL. The school is using COVID-19 friendly greetings like air high fives, elbow bumps, and pinkie waves. Teachers have also modified energizers to be COVID-19 friendly so students can still participate, move, and have fun while staying safely distanced. All of the students wear masks and are practicing safe distancing at school. Staff have been focusing on self-control and responsibility by practicing and reinforcing these safety measures. The school rules—be safe, be kind, be responsible—also support students in developing these social-emotional skills.

The Steigerwald Family, Singapore
(Singapore American School, in-person learning)