PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – It’s been a rough few months for parents. Schools, parks, playgrounds — all closed.
For many parents during the age of COVID-19, home is now the classroom, the office and the center of entertainment.
Dr. Rachel Schwartz, a special education teacher and consultant for the Watson Institute has written an article called “Thoughts for Families in a Hard Time.” She went over a few points with KDKA’s Brenda Waters.
“Connect” was at the top of the list. She says when things get tough people tend to want to pull in, grit their teeth and bear it. But she says that’s not a good idea. She says parents need to reach out — to other resources, to the community, to their church.
“Routine” is another point.
“The routine is that we live our life following routines, all of us do. Our children have routines and now with covid, all of that was blown out of the water. Now we need to establish a new routine.”
Dr. Schwartz says parents also need to focus on what is most important at the moment and if you children act out, don’t take it personally, they too are dealing with difficult times.
The next one may be a little tough and that is “relax.” But that’s what Dr. Schwartz wants parents to adhere to the most.
“You are everything your child needs. Your child is so lucky to have you as a parent, you are giving them love, the best academia, all of the things they need right now,” she says.
Dr. Schwartz says she wanted to make these points now during National Mental Health Month.
Posted May 13, 2020 11:44 a.m. EDT Updated May 13, 2020 5:59 p.m. EDT
By Richard Adkin, WRAL photojournalist
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — There are few people who have seen COVID-19 from as many angles as Dr. Samuel McLean, a Chapel Hill emergency department physician. He’s seen the virus as a doctor, he’s seen it as a patient, and he’s seen it as the parent of a sick child.
“It was really my worst nightmare, getting COVID myself,” he said of the experience. “It never really hits you like it has during this COVID pandemic, the fact that when you’re going to work you’re risking not only your life, but the lives of people around you, and that for sure is the hardest part.”
McLean started feeling ill back in March. He had treated people with what he suspected were coronavirus symptoms, and having seen the news coverage from overseas, he knew the pandemic was inevitable. He called it “like a slow train in terms of the COVID epidemic coming to our community.”
McLean says his symptoms started with a cough and a headache. The symptoms were mild. He didn’t have a fever and the symptoms went away after a few days. Then a week later, they came back much worse.
McLean knows the risks of being an emergency medical worker. He says that risk is usually small. But this virus, he says, is something to fear.
“The fear that you might get sick yourself but also the fear that people who mean the most to you in the world could even die because of your work. That is truly a very scary feeling,” he said.
With fear comes courage, courage bolstered by community support. McLean sees that support and believes it hits the mark with his fellow healthcare coworkers.
“Well I think it means a lot to all of us,” McLean said, “I think that we are all extremely grateful, and I think that just as humans that any of us, when we are making a sacrifice, making a commitment, to have that sacrifice recognized, is just very meaningful.”
By Paula Marie Naranjo | April 14,2020 | Edited on May 2,2020
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was enacted by the 101st United States Congress and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on October 30, 1990. It was first introduced in the Senate as S.1824 by Senator Tom Harkin (D.IA) on October 31, 1989. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law that makes appropriate public education eligible to children with disabilities free throughout the nation and ensures special education services to all who qualify. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 6,964,424 children with special needs were served in the 2017-2018 school year. Although every year the enrollment rate continues to rise, the sad truth is that many children still slip through the cracks.
There are so many obstacles educators in general must overcome during this day and age. From social media to no support from parents these educators are underpaid and overworked. I had the privilege finding out first hand some of the work it takes to educate. I have one general ed and two special ed students that I must get help guiding them through their curriculum. Even with modified work it’s a feat I am sadly struggling with. But if you can imagine your child’s teacher modifying all the work to fit this new teaching model for 10-20 students. Special education is an uphill battle all by itself, but throw in COVID 19 lockdown and you very well may have a mountain to climb. A few teachers from San antonio schools took the time to answer my questions on teaching through COVID19.
How has this new teaching model been working for the students?
Melissa “It’s working as well as can be expected, but that’s all because of parent communication. Having great parent communication makes any type of education easier.”
Irma Valdez-Cevallos “The Majority of my students are struggling with the virtual model.”
JC “It has been a struggle. I work with the high needs population (ALE/Lifeskills) so it has been rather difficult for my students and their families. We, the SpEd staff, are trying to provide resources and tools to best fit the needs for our students and their families, but some accommodations/modifications/behavior needs are difficult for us to find virtual/digital ways to help.”
The new teaching model ( virtual classroom) for general education seems to be working well for most students and teachers. Special education is one of the exceptions to the rule. Most teachers spend long summer months preparing how they can modify the work and use the classroom and staff as tools to help the child. Unfortunately, with the child being at home they will lack the support, guidance and emotional structure the teacher and paraprofessional offer.
What are some of the challenges your students are facing?
Melissa “Motivation or anxiety- but that’s all students, sped or non-sped. It’s like starting high school all over again. It’s new/different and scary.”
Irma Valdez-Cevallos “Students are facing difficulties due to less one to one instruction and getting easily frustrated due to the lack of support.”
JC “Using technology alone can be a struggle for some of my students. Other students need constant support to stay focused on tasks. Other students need frequent breaks and guidance to come back to work. Parents are busy and stressed with other activities, so this can be a difficult situation.”
Many parents I spoke to said that they are noticing that the child is having a hard time separating home and school time while being at home. Most children with special needs have lots of tools such as communication devices, interactive schedules, and other therapy strategies in place by a professional to support them in school. Most parents don’t have the training or resources to provide the same environment that would benefit the child.
What methods have you used that work for your students?
Melissa “Parent communication and positive motivation!”
Irma Valdez-Cevallos “Calling them a few times a week, emailing them, adding positive comments , reducing work.”
JC “Choice boards on different levels. Short video conferences with students to say hello. Sending home behavior charts for parents to use and walking them through step by step how to use them (ex: student answers 1 question, they get 1 star, after 4 stars they get a break).”
Most teachers have 1-20 years of experience that I’ve spoken to and they see that they must continue to modify and reduce the amount of work they are providing the student. This can be good in the sense that the child doesn’t lose confidence in themselves if they can’t complete the work. On the other hand it delays their progress and most teachers are noticing the children regressing.
How are you coping with this new teaching model?
Melissa “Teaching is about adaptability. If you can’t adapt, you probably shouldn’t be teaching. That sounds harsh, but every group of kids is different. You can’t expect next year’s group to be like your group from three years ago.”
Irma Valdez-Cevallos “I’m overwhelmed with the amount of work that goes into one lesson using different platforms and still being accountable with calling parents, holding ARDS , joining in on weekly department and faculty meetings, tutorial group meetings with students, grading, creating lessons, updating IEP progress reports, filling contact logs for both parents and students and learning new virtual learning platforms.”
JC “I have a master’s degree in technology so the curriculum part isn’t difficult. I miss my students though.”
Most teachers concur with Irma Valdez-Cevallos in feeling overwhelmed as well as apprehensive in the fact that their students may be left way behind in the learning curve. Every teacher i spoke to expressed a feeling of sadness in missing their students.
Has it increased your workload and can you give me examples?
Melissa “The workload is the same for SPED- it’s just processed differently. Instead of leaving the classroom for small group help, we’re setting up an alternate virtual classroom. Instead of stickers and physical goodies like pencils, I’m awarding ClassDojo points and positive parent text messages.”
Irma Valdez-Cevallos “I’m spending 8- 9 hours on the computer!”
JC “In some areas yes. In other areas no. For instance I am not teaching my kids 7 hours a day, however, I am documenting more and sending out more information than prior. I am creating digital content that I haven’t in the past – so that has been a challenge.”
Creativity is what comes to mind when teachers explain to me how they are modifying the curriculum. Many are building apps, computer programs and repurposing classroom tools to think outside the box and fill a need for new ways of teaching.
How will this work factor into the students final grade?
Melissa “If you have high expectations for any student, they will rise to the occasion. People forget that not all SPED is students with intellectual disabilities. Some students have extremely high IQs but behavior,l or emotional difficulties. Autistic children are on a spectrum, so the IQ varies by subject for some lower functioning students. Think Rain Man!”
Irma Valdez-Cevallos “I have modified and customized what each student will turn in so they will pass based on the work they submit.”
JC “I honestly am not sure about this and I do not like to speculate. However if you email me later, I am sure I will have a clear answer once my administration sets these guidelines”
With a little over 6 weeks left in the school year, many parents worry if COVID 19 will hold their child back from meeting goals. Most states waived their state standardized testing. I reached out to the IDEA School District but didn’t receive a response on how final grades will be factored. One thing is for sure, this school year will be one to remember.
Have you heard if you have a return to work date?
Melissa “No return to work date. Basically May is summer as normal.”
Irma Valdez-Cevallos “So far May 4th-”
JC “Right now we are set to return early May, however, I am unsure if we will actually return at all.”
What tools or resources do you have for parents that are struggling?
Melissa “Knowledge on the go has Wit & Wisdom open resources, and Eureka Math. Prodigy math is an amazing online math/fantasy gaming platform. BrainPop! Is free right now!”
Irma Valdez-Cevallos “Provides laptops and WiFi, breakfast and lunch for students, inform parents of the food bank at our district office for weekly pickup.”
JC “Stay in contact with your teacher – we are here to help. I am providing lots of resources from Temple Grandin, Autism Educators, and other resources. I am trying to set up a classroom and SpEd google meets – to where kids can converse with each other to give mom a break.”
Parents across the US are searching for resources to help their children. Many parents lack the educational background to know where to begin to properly help their child. These educators were kind enough to share some of their tools.
How can we as parents, help our children with special needs, stay on track per their IEPs?
Melissa “Love and patience. Just remember that this is different for all of us and we are all “into the unknown” to quote Elsa.”
Irma Valdez-Cevallos “Understanding what the student is actually capable of accomplishing and encouraging them to increase to their full potential. Monitor them. Ask questions.”
JC “Be aware of what your child’s goals are. See if you can find anything around the house to help build that awareness/skill/knowledge. Take pictures of their growth/them doing work.”
After going over their responses it was clear that this career is for the strong minded and dedicated. I’ve been told of the long and stressful hours left awake trying to help parents find resources that will help their child understand and master the lesson. Some are going as far as training the parents and then having a live video chat so they can support the child and the parents. Many expressed they are acting in place of social workers by finding food banks, free infant products and also buying supplies to help the student from their own pocket. I have had teachers on social media offer anyone help no matter what school the student goes to at no cost, knowing they already have so much on their plates.
These three women and countless others are not only educators but dedicated professionals and pillars of our community. When COVID 19 ceases to be nothing but history I hope we don’t soon forget how important our educators are to our future. I sincerely hope congress can find a way to better fund the schools and give these educators a well deserved salary raise to better support or future leaders of the world.
A special thank you to Melissa for helping me get the questionnaire to her colleagues, and to Irma , and JC for taking the time to answer all my questions. I appreciate their candid and informative answers.
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