By Stephen Harris for United Way of Hunterdon County
The Pandemic has affected every sector of life and the economy. For children in school, this has caused a major shift in their education and social interactions. It is halfway through the Summer and still there remains uncertainty. This impacts not only the students, but it also has consequences for their parents.
When the schools closed, parents scrambled to provide support for distance learning via telecommunications. For some parents, who quickly found themselves unemployed, this provided an extra level of stress. For parents who were employed, this added complexity to the home dynamics. Parents who were used to working while their children were in school now had social changes and often technology challenges as well.
The tools essential to distance learning include a laptop and Wi-Fi. For some families, especially with multiple children, access to a fast internet and laptops might be a financial problem. Children living in poverty become further disadvantaged. Schools and internet providers stepped in to help, but they could only address technology hurdles.
However, more far reaching is the social need for students to interact with their teachers and other students. Technology is not a substitute for children’s social needs. Teachers had to quickly adapt their teaching style and plans to distance learning over a laptop.
Over time, we may learn that some students managed to thrive, yet others fell behind. “Many parents and educators thus share a common worry: When the pandemic subsides, kids will return to school with lower achievement. There are also concerns that the gap between high- and low-achieving students will become larger. “ 1
The Brookings Institute conducted a recent study of students and found a downward trend in reading and mathematics skills. 1 Yet this study doesn’t address the social learning that occurs normally while children are in school – interacting with each other.
School will soon commence but there is still uncertainty around how students will be taught safely.. For example, Rutgers University will teach most classes using virtual technology until the Spring, allowing for some in-school labs. Harvard and Princeton will reduce the number of on-site students, allowing just 40% to return while the remaining students continue with distance learning.
The current guidance from the Governor is that K-12 schools will be open, with specific rules for social distancing in classes and busses, students and teachers are to wear masks and school must follow CDC guidelines for cleanliness and disinfecting. The specifics on how schools will adapt are still being worked out.
Children and their parents need support to overcome the stresses relating to the change in education and homelife dynamics. NJ 2-1-1 is a valuable resource for seeking out organizations that can provide help or advice. Discuss your, and yourchildren’s concerns with the new school policy, with teachers and administrators. They are navigating new waters as well.
United Way of Hunterdon County will once again offer it’s Tools 4 School program; however, there will be an emphasis on Tooling our Kids for Safety and Success. At the recommendation of a focus group of educators, the program has been streamlined to meet needs of students wherever they find themselves in class – in a school setting, at home or a combination of both.
Our goal is to build 1,000 student safety kits consisting of a pencil box/bag, face mask (reusable), hand sanitizer, ear buds (with mic), pencils, pens, and pencil sharpener. These items will be useful to students whether they end up learning in their classroom, or from home. Additionally, we plan to provide each family served with a $20 gift card (from Walmart or ShopRite) to fill in any gaps with supplies they may determine they need.
That brings us to you. We won’t be able to do this without you. Because of the pandemic, we are unable to hold all of the supply drives that we normally would- from Walmart, Shoprite, and at many of our business partner locations- none of those collections will happen this year. So in order to gather all of the items we need- we are requesting your assistance.
Please consider helping us in one of the following ways:
- Volunteer to run a drive or challenge to assist us in collecting the items outlined above. For example, this is a great opportunity for media-savvy teens (and adults) to post videos challenges to their friends to collect a specific number of gift cards, pencil sharpeners or masks or simply share the challenges United Way will be posting on our FaceBook and Instagram pages.
- Make fabric masks (child or adult sizes) that are reusable/washable.
- Consider purchasing $20 gift cards to Walmart or ShopRite (most in need) or supplies listed above to help us fill the need.
Donations are due by August 14th.
This coming school year holds a lot of uncertainty and unprecedented ways of doing things for many members of our community. Our United Way staff, volunteers, and donors plan to make sure every child has the opportunity to engage fully in their education this year, however it may look.
Thank you in advance for your consideration. Together we will continue to build a stronger, more resilient community.