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Relationships, reading, writing and math

I have heard many people talk about the importance of distance learning during the COVID 19 pandemic, that children need to continue their learning. And to that my response is absolutely. 

As I was talking to a local early childhood teacher recently, he talked passionately about how much the children told him that they missed their day-to-day contact with him, and he with them. The distance children most want to close is their distance from people who show that they care.

In all of the discussions we have about children falling behind, I have several questions. Are we as concerned when children are in school? Do we truly understand, as much as they may complain about getting up and dressed in the morning, how much children value going to school, to see their principals, teachers, bus drivers, school food service workers, custodians and friends who say hello, high-five and hug them each day?

Do we fully understand that especially for young people with special needs, how essential their relationships with school people are, that building those relationships is often a vital element of their Individual Educational Plans? 

When we talk about mentoring young people, we are talking about relationships. We are talking about showing up. What young people often value about going to school is that someone who cares shows it. 

And guess what, there are young people who love to tell you how much they hate being told what to do. And yet, they keep coming back to be told what to do, because at least someone cares enough to let them know what’s in and out of bounds. 

And let us have no illusions, there are hundreds of children who may have computers or smart phones but no connection to the internet. Therefore, they have no distance learning and until possibly another month, they may have no way of getting access to the internet away from their neighborhoods or homes.  

When students return to school, it will be imperative that time be taken to measure, to gauge students’ skills, especially in the foundational areas of reading, writing and math. The measures do not need to be standardized tests; they can be tasks designed by teachers to judge skills gained and lost in comparison to the closing of schools in March.

As important, it will be vital to gauge students’ moods and behavior. Some students will return to school hungry, some depressed, some suffering from the impact of being isolated in dysfunctional homes. 

I have often heard it said that we ask school staffs to be too much — social workers, psychologists and physicians. We need to remember that students and parents often ask a great deal of people in schools because they trust them. We need to remember that trust is built on relationships.

Nick Fischer is a former superintendent of the New London Public Schools.

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