By Jennifer Chin, Co-Founder, EConnected
The year 2020 has been an unprecedented year for everyone in many ways each of us would have never imagined. Perhaps one of the most concerning issues, as parents and as educators, is our students’ education as a result of the transition to remote learning. Students, families, teachers, and school administrators have had to adapt to this new and unfamiliar way of teaching and learning and continue to struggle with this transitioning landscape from traditional in-person schooling to online teaching and learning.
Uncertainty, confusion, inequality — some words our students might use to sum up their experience of remote learning this past year. As an educator working closely with both students, families, and school administrators every day, we’ve come to realize some of the many challenges and burdens standing between a student and their education this year:
- Learning environment: At the start of every school year, teachers do their best to set up their classrooms to create a welcoming, comfortable environment for their students to learn in. Now with online learning, all of this is taken away, and all students have to work with is a screen in front of them and the limited supplies, if any, available in their homes. Imagine what the “learning environment” looks and feels like for those students living in a single room with the rest of their family, perhaps with other siblings also trying to do online learning at the same time.
- Access to technology: In March 2020 when all NYC public schools closed down at the peak of the pandemic, the New York City Department of Education announced they would be sending out free Internet-enabled iPads for all students who needed it for online learning. It sounded like the perfect plan and a solution to all problems for families without access to devices and/or Wi-Fi at home – but only perfect if all students who were in need of a remote learning device actually received one. This article reflects the struggles that families and school administrators have experienced in getting these devices, leaving many students without access to their online classes and falling quickly behind:
- Added stress for families: Imagine being a full-time working parent/guardian and having to now worry about a second job at home – helping your children with their online learning. Families with younger children are especially struggling to help their kids navigate the various online platforms, log into their classes at the right times, and complete their online assignments. Families working from home have the added stress of dividing their attention between their actual job and now their added job as their child’s at-home teacher. Families who need to work outside the home are then leaving their children behind with no help throughout the day with their online learning.
- Discouragement: “Online classes are so confusing. I don’t know how to do my assignments or where to even find them.” This has been said by students of all grade levels – whether elementary or high school level. Students get easily discouraged and are more likely to “check out” of online schooling. In a Zoom meeting of 30+ students, how can we expect a student to voice their questions and concerns to their teacher? The transition to online learning has undoubtedly had an impact on students’ overall social-emotional well-being.
- Keeping students engaged: It takes only one or two meetings a day for adults working from home to experience Zoom fatigue quickly and easily, let only trying to keep our young learners online for an entire school day. It’s difficult enough keeping a student focused in the classroom; now it’s even easier for them to disengage when they’re learning through a screen. Meanwhile, teachers are striving to find all possible ways to keep students’ attention through video conferences. It’s no easy job.
- Social interaction: Perhaps what we miss most, both as students and as educators, is the social interaction piece of schooling. Educators and school administrators continue to be concerned about the social interaction students are missing as a result of online learning, a crucial part of students’ development and education. At the start of online learning, we’ve heard as educators over and over again from our students, “I miss my friends and teachers. I just want to go back to school soon.”
In August 2020, four NYU alumni came together to start a not-for-profit organization in support of English Language Learners across New York City to alleviate some of these hardships of online and blended learning. EConnected aims to provide students with both academic and social emotional support by matching each volunteer to one student. Volunteers and students meet weekly on Zoom for one-hour tutoring sessions for homework help and general reading, writing, and math practice. Our volunteers serve our youth not only as a tutor but a mentor-like figure to them throughout the school year. Many students of EConnected simply enjoy the opportunity for social interaction with their volunteer tutor as they spend time learning together from week to week. Please consider joining our team of volunteers by checking out our website or emailing us. Any educator or parent/guardian that knows of English Language Learners in need of additional support can also reach out to us via email.