There are many reasons children struggle with remote learning. In my own family, the challenges have been as varied as the kids themselves. While I can’t speak directly to their struggles, I can share exactly what mine have been. As a full-time working parent, my life was upended by New York’s stay-at-home orders. Not only did I suddenly have the responsibility of managing my children's connections with their learning tools, documents and materials, but I also found myself busier than ever with COVID-19-related chaos at work. Add to that the typical responsibilities that come with managing a family, and a full-time “essential” working spouse, and it was easy to feel sunk.
I don’t share this to garner sympathy — I know that I am one of the lucky ones in all of this — but I share it to help you understand what many families are facing when it comes to balancing remote learning with everything else in life.
Parents are not alone in our struggles. College students, especially those whose programs require experiential components, were suddenly without access to the valuable experience that internships, practicums and clinical experiences provide. There is a reason we put students in real-world scenarios — students need to experience the pressure that real-time problems require. They hone a student’s expectations and outlook, and in the best cases, they inspire new ideas and teach meaningful lessons that are carried forward and used to shape career paths.
Peachtown Elementary School sits in a unique position. As an independent school located on a college campus, we have long benefited from a vibrant and symbiotic relationship with the Wells College education department. These education majors bring a diversity to our classrooms through their backgrounds and ideas and keep us feeling energized and inspired. In return, our teachers have shared their wisdom and experience, and our program itself has opened eyes to approaches and methods that fall outside of state and district mandates.
What does a group of smart and creative people do when faced with a huge challenge? They brainstorm the possibilities and innovate solutions. We had students who were struggling to engage and parents who were struggling to connect and direct. Wells had students who were in need of experiential internship credits. Everyone needed to find a way forward and in the midst of a stressful board meeting, a brilliant solution was born. With the help of a grant from the Cayuga County COVID-19 Fund, an affiliate fund of the Central New York Community Foundation, we were able to employ a small handful of personal tutors, whom we lovingly refer to as “study buddies.”
These education students were assigned to work directly with their student buddies in coordination with the children’s teachers and parents. They checked in on an agreed-upon schedule and they helped with whatever the students needed to stay on track. Some of our students benefited most from the accountability and others needed more of an academic boost, but the response from parents has been overwhelmingly similar. Putting a study buddy in place allowed our overwhelmed working parents to set aside some of the mental load that remote instruction was creating. They were able to focus on their own work for longer stretches of time, and they found they could use the time they did have with their kids to nurture their relationship. This is incredibly important for children, who thrive on the care that comes from a stable and loving caregiver. Sometimes putting kids first means helping their parents. This is a solution that clearly helped everyone.
The study buddy program has been a huge success and it’s an idea worth sharing. We love our education students, but consider a family member or friend who might have the patience, energy and knowledge to support your child in a similar way. Likewise, if you are reading this and looking for ways to help your community, consider offering your time for an hour or two a day. It’s rewarding work, and with technology being what it is, it’s possible to do from the comfort of your own couch or lawn chair. There are a million needs, and just as many ways to step up. This is one of many ideas worth sharing. I challenge you to pass it along!
Alyssa Binns Gunderson is the director at Peachtown Elementary School in Aurora, a multi-age, project-based school for prekindergarten through eighth grade located on the campus of Wells College. For more information, call (315) 364-8721 or visit peachtownschool.com.
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