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Group Project

Contributed by: Jill Marini, Director of Early Learning and School Age Programs YWCA Hartford Region

The kids are back to school, more and more people are getting vaccinated, many towns are dropping their mask mandate and the state positivity rates continue to stay below 2%, so we are all good to go, right?

Unfortunately not. As we see the economy, the job market and other public issues still teetering on the edge we know these are the longer-term impacts of the pandemic.  But what about those areas where our children have been impacted?   Previously I discussed the social and emotional toll our children are feeling in making the pivot from social distancing and isolation to being back in groups of people as okay, but what about the academic impact?

Think about it, today’s first graders were in preschool when the pandemic hit and those in seventh grade were in fifth grade.  I chose these age brackets because they show a huge jump in social/emotional, self-efficacy and cognitive development.  I am sure we have all heard the phrase – everything I needed to know, I learned in Kindergarten – and to some extent that is true.  You cannot do math without knowing how to count and you can’t read without knowing your alphabet.  Additionally, the social and self-efficacy skills that are gained in Kindergarten are key to young children developing the ability to care for themselves and be independent from their parents.  So, today’s first graders are entering a classroom where the expectation is that they have certain skills, both academically and as independent little humans, which they may not have.  Comparing a fifth grade classroom to the daily experience of a seventh grader shows another wide gap in skills expected.  Fifth graders remain in one classroom with one teacher, staying in one group, while seventh graders are expected to move from one class to another, experience different teachers throughout the day and manage increased responsibilities.  In fifth grade, students experience the basic foundation of mathematical equations, while by seventh grade they are expected to do higher math.  

I believe without a shadow of a doubt that each teacher did their absolute best to ensure that their children had an opportunity to learn all of the skills mentioned above, however I am also equally sure that they will tell you that online learning is not optimal for all children and much of the learning that children do in academic settings requires hands on, meaningful, learning experiences, which are difficult in an online setting.  Another variable that I believe has been overlooked, as we all focused on our screens to learn and work during the pandemic, is the body language that comes with learning.  It can be difficult to read the comprehension of students when they are all staring at a screen.

The good news is that this situation occurred in every school across the country and will be a concern in each classroom, probably for several years.  In my eyes this makes addressing it a “group project” (another causality of the pandemic).  What can you do today to support your child and do your part of the project?

  1. Don’t compare your child to your older children, your older nieces and nephews etc.. For example if your first grader’s sibling was independent, able to read age appropriate chapter books and add and subtract, don’t expect the same from your current first grader.  They have not had the same experiences and opportunities.
  2. Keep perspective.  There is nothing “wrong” with your child and the delays they are experiencing are not due to a developmental concern or delay, they are the product of the experiences or lack of experiences that they have been exposed to. 
  3. Don’t play the blame game.  This is not the fault of the school, the parents or the student.  This current situation is the result of a worldwide pandemic.  We all did the absolute best we could, with the tools and time we had. 
  4. Get involved.  Talk to your child’s teacher, get involved in the PTO, ask the school district what their plan is to overcome the challenges that students are facing as a result of the pandemic. 
  5. Support your child during this challenging time.  They are likely feeling overwhelmed as they are being introduced to things at lightning speed.
  6. Support your children’s teachers.  What they know about first graders has changed and they are making adjustments every day to support students.

Take a deep breath!  While the pandemic hit quick and without warning, giving us no time to plan, the recovery will be slower and allow us to plan and make adjustments as needed.  Recovery is going to be a group project – which will require all of us to do our part.