Educational Pandemic

By Sam Reiner

2020 has been a hard year for people all over the world. The recent outbreak of COVID-19 – also, known as Coronavirus, has impacted everyone’s life in one way or another. Jobs have become harder to find and medical professionals have been more necessary now than ever before. However, in the midst of all the chaos, it has been very easy to forget that schools and the students are also being hit hard by the virus. With many schools switching to online classes and colleges shutting down their campuses completely, many parents are still struggling to understand exactly what is happening with their children’s educations. Some parents are still struggling to see why schools even needed to shut down. Although some people may think the reason for school shutdowns are obviously for public health and safety, others do not seem to understand why their children are not in school. The spread of misinformation about coronavirus and school shutdowns on the internet and different news networks means not everyone fully understands exactly how dangerous this new strain of the corona virus truly is. 

Named for the shape of its crown like spikes, the coronavirus itself is not a new disease. According to Dr. Elisabeth Gleckler of Tulane University, there are several other strains of the coronavirus in the world including Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and now SARS-CoV-2 , otherwise known as COVID-19. Even though other variations of this disease exist, it does not mean the disease is something to be taken lightly. The virus has spread like wildfire since December 2019 and because it is new, no one is immune. Add this lack of immunity to the fact that there are people asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19, it is no wonder why the stay at home orders have been put into place around the world. Stay at home orders may seem like something to be worried about and that concern is a completely natural reaction. When asked about people’s reaction Dr. Gleckler said “I think there are a lot of reasons to be worried. Being worried also means that people get prepared. Some fear and anxiety [are] healthy response[s] to a threat.”

When it comes to students at school, this feeling of fear and anxiety extend to both parents and faculty alike. Adults are concerned for the safety of the children they look after and the caregivers want to do everything in their power to keep everyone safe. Keeping people safe includes measures such as moving all classes online and sending home college students that lived in the campus dorms. However, the precautionary measures have not quelled all parental concerns. Many parents are wondering how the virus and curriculum changes will affect their child’s education. Some parents believe that schools were so caught off guard by the pandemic that the institutions are simply making things up as they go. Schools winging education is simply not true however as they have been preparing for online classes since the COVID-19 virus began to spread in Europe.

Tulane’s Executive Director of Public Relations, Mike Strecker, mentioned that the choice to shut down the Tulane University’s campus “was well-thought-out and informed by [the school’s] total commitment to protecting the safety of [the] campus community and the public-at-large, while also maintaining Tulane’s academic and research missions.” Stecker also mentioned that there were several groups on campus that were keeping tabs on the spread of the virus and working on Tulane’s response long before the virus was even in Louisiana. Strecker assured that once the pandemic is over and everyone is safe, the university will be ready to open up the campus again and bring back in-person classes and faculty. Strecker’s words show that the college’s staff knows what they are doing and are trying their best to give all students the education they need.

Though Tulane’s preparedness is reassuring, it is only covering what colleges are doing to ensure higher education will go back to normal. Educational normalcy is much different for parents who have children still in high school or even elementary school. While the situation is different, it is not to say that non-collegiate schools are handling the situation poorly. Much like Tulane, high schools around the country switched to online classes to prevent the students and teachers from being forced to go to school and possibly contract and spread the virus. However, the main difference between elementary schools, high schools, and colleges is when it comes to how closely students work with the staff.

There is no denying that the faculty in high schools have far more interaction with students than most college faculty do and going online has presented numerous problems for them. According to Christina Gaeta, a school counselor in New Jersey, online classes have made it “so hard to support students who need [her] when [they] can’t be together and [they] can’t always communicate in real-time.  Some students are disengaged, and [she has] no way to reach them after [she has] exhausted [her] options of email and telephone.” Beyond just not having interaction with teachers, the lack of social interaction between students has been hard as well. The principal of Morris Jefferson High School in New Orleans, Margaret Leaf, said “our kids not being able to have the social interaction that they have … with one another, I think, is really difficult.”

Despite the problems they are facing, faculty of different schools have said they think that, given the circumstances, online classes are the best option even if they have not been perfected. Faculty and staff did everything they could to make sure students became adjusted before online classes ever started. Margaret Leaf, said that students “basically had a week in which [they] were given some time to adjust to [the new] way of life,” and pupils began their distance learning the following Monday. Leaf even released a video about how to build the new schedule and told students exactly when teachers were available so they could build the schedule that works best for them. Clearly, Leaf, like many other school employees, is doing everything in her power to make sure her students have everything they need to succeed. While yes, some students will miss out on things like prom or field trips, it is safe to say that it is completely worth it in order to stay safe.

Other grade levels, like kindergarten or even preschool, are shutting down, but this tends not to have such a big impact on the students as much as it does on the parents. If both parents work, then they may have difficulties juggling their job, their kid, and helping with school work all at once. Gaeta mentioned that she is busier than ever when it comes to her job. She is “waking up earlier and staying up to return emails during off-hours, as needed.” Thankfully though, helping her children hasn’t been a big hassle at all. According to Gaeta, “My kindergartener receives a Daily Learning Plan in the form of a PowerPoint presentation with a slide for each subject. Each slide has videos, links, worksheets, etc. embedded within them.” For her younger child, they receive emails from their “preschooler’s teacher with suggested activities and resources to keep them engaged.” Both of Gaeta’s children also have ZOOM meetings (live video chats) with the class every week so they don’t fall behind.

Schools all over the country have clearly been doing their best to make sure everyone is up to date on what is happening and providing as much support as possible. Although there are some issues with the system, it is clear that those in charge of the schools believe that switching to online was the correct move. However, now we must ask: How long will this last? Well unfortunately, that is a question that is very difficult to answer as the pandemic itself will really only end once a vaccine has been produced. Some experts have been saying that it could take 12 to 18 months for a vaccine to become available meaning that the rest of this school year will take place online to keep students safe.

This means that until the vaccine is available then we all must keep taking the steps needed to keep the virus from spreading any more than it has. Yes, there are still some things about this strain of coronavirus that we do not know. One thing we do know, though, is that everyone can play a part in stopping the spread of COVID-19. In order to do stop the advancement of the coronavirus, everyone must listen to what public health experts have said to do. Dr. Gleckler has said that some of the most important things to remember are to wash your hands frequently during the day, avoid touching your face, eyes and mouth, and avoid crowds or crowded places by maintaining a distance of six feet from other people. The more people who listen to the professionals, the quicker everything can go back to normal. Dr. Gleckler said it best when she told me that if we are to beat coronavirus then we must realize that “We are all in this together and need to take care of each other. It is how we decide to approach this that is important.”

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