The sudden change in day-to-day life due to the coronavirus pandemic is not only scary for kids, it’s isolating and traumatic, with daily routines upended; schools closed; and sports, extra-curricular activities, playdates, and sleepovers with friends suspended indefinitely. But countless educators are taking on initiatives that go well beyond lesson plans and online teaching to counter these negative impacts of COVID-19 — and their Herculean efforts are sustaining many families with no other support during this challenging time.
Teachers working ten to twelve hours a day from their homes are helping kids stay active, focused, motivated, engaged, and connected, despite the lockdown. They’re offering students a social network, along with a sense of continuity, purpose, growth, and of belonging to a larger community. Teachers are providing order, schedules, and routine to days which otherwise feel repetitive, boring, uncertain, and unending. They’re adding color, music, joy, surprise, and even adventure to the monotony of kids’ days in isolation. In some cases, schools are also continuing to feed students eligible for free meals, who would otherwise go hungry while stuck at home, acting as a virtual lifeline in a time of desperate need.
One of my tween’s teachers has been sending kids regular short meditations to help them deal with any stress, anxiety or other difficult emotions they’re experiencing. And the head of her elementary school started a YouTube cooking channel, offering students some ideas for healthy food to prepare and enjoy with their families while stuck at home. Her gym teacher issues a daily 15-minute online workout or physical challenge the whole school, which extended families often join in on. But my daughter's school is not alone in these efforts. My son's daycare providers have been sending hugs and silly songs via video to entertain little ones, as well as small weekly DIY projects, including making a puzzle from pieces of cardboard, or play dough from flour and salt.
Around the country, countless other parents are gratefully sharing similar stories, tales highlighting some of the many ways educators are working to support kids and families through the pandemic.
Erica, a mom of two, reports that the principal at her northern California school records a short Facebook live video to “greet” kids, just like she does curbside at drop off when school is in session. Rose, a parent in New York, says her kids' school sends a mindfulness exercise every morning for all grades.
And several parents have applauded how their schools immediately implemented free meals for kids who typically were provided food by the Department of Education. "Our school district is providing students who need or want one a grab and go lunch," says Jenna, another parent in New York. "It was the first thing our district set up, before our academics. We are mostly free or reduced lunch here. Without school, kids go hungry. Three days into the program, they also started giving students breakfast for the next day. They opened it to any student living in the area, 18 and under. No need to apply or show proof of residency. They are serving over three thousand meals a week."
Emily Burch Harris reports that her son’s fourth-grade class, at an elementary school in North Carolina, took virtual field trips to both the state’s Museum of Natural History and Museum of Natural Sciences, among other places of interest. “The teachers prepared a PowerPoint presentation that started with a slide of buses, announcing: 'The buses are here, let's roll out!'" The students even wore school T-shirts for the virtual outings, and followed up with a personal art project about three things they learned. The “amazing” art teacher has made videos and inspires kids to work on art projects at home with whatever materials they have on hand, Harris adds.
Maria Falgoust, a head librarian in Brooklyn, New York, has been hard at work creating entertaining and educational video clips along with other educators at her school. Falgoust keeps her students enthralled and engaged in literacy with funny virtual story times, and shares “ridiculous” videos of ideas of how to stay active in small spaces, using books as weights.
Just across the East river, Sabrina Faust, a fourth grade special education teacher in Manhattan motivates her students at home to keep learning and stay positive through countless hours of thoughtfully prepared projects they can enjoy from afar. So far, she's done virtual field trips to explore “places all around the world from zoos, to museums, and cool street art;” a journalism unit centered around kids’ personal experiences during the pandemic; regular video conferences to check in on families and kids on a one-on-one platform, and regular class “meetings” to play games like reverse I Spy, or Guess Who. She's even hosted a talent show.
Faust, like so many other teachers working tirelessly and remotely, tackles the larger emotional issues of the pandemic along with the challenges of distance learning, all at once. She does so through private journals with students who are struggling to overcome anxiety during this difficult time, and adaptions for those with learning and attention needs, including open phone lines and personal video calls to provide positive feedback and encouragement — just to name a few.
As a parent to two young kids housebound by the pandemic, these educators’ boundless efforts, positivity, and dedication to their students is inspiring, humbling, and monumental. At a time when families are more overwhelmed than ever, this extra support offers both comfort and hope. For kids of all ages stuck at home, teachers are the essential workers and unsung heroes keeping the days interesting, meaningful, mindful, and a whole lot more fun. They’re nourishing kids’ bodies and minds during an unprecedented, extended period of deprivation. And in my own household, as in many others, educators are getting a well-deserved daily applause of admiration and gratitude for helping kids continue to grow, explore, discover, and move forward together, even while the world remains stuck at stand-still, for now.
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