As we return to another school year virtually, most students are prepping for their online classes, downloading Zoom, trying to adjust to this new “normal.” If you have younger siblings in elementary school or younger, your household is probably struggling with how you’re going to get an 8- or 5-year-old to log on to their classes or how to supervise them if everyone has to go to work. Teachers are scrambling for ideas on how to keep their students engaged.
Even though various schools that are virtual have provided ways to give students laptops and internet access, we still have students struggling. Not so long ago, a 12-year-old was suspended from school because a teacher found a toy gun during a Zoom session, and the cops were immediately called. Why weren’t other options pursued first before calling the cops, such as calling the parents, social services, etc.? Another thing to think about is that students are in households where sometimes they can’t control their environment or what goes on around them. School rules should be modified pertaining to the new system ahead of us. We have students who are already facing barriers, maybe from lack of Wi-Fi, technology issues or not having space to fully concentrate in class. Suspending students from attending class should be the last option when it comes to disciplining them or making sure they’re safe. The school-to-prison pipeline is still a threat even with virtual schooling, especially with the events that happened over the summer, such as the rise of the Black Lives Matter protests and the pandemic. Obviously, we want to keep students safe, so having any classes in person should still be held off, but the question is how do we keep students engaged and adapt to their environment while making sure they get the best learning experience possible?
I would first suggest that teachers do weekly check-ins with students and their families. This would help get a sense of the student’s environment and exactly what’s going on in the household. This will build a better connection with students as well as with their families and help build better trust. If someone’s environment isn’t the right fit for learning at all, then resources need to be provided to help assist the student, instead of prohibiting them from watching a class. It’s spreading the message that the battles or barriers the student is fighting will stop them from getting an education. The transition to virtual schooling is already an obstacle for most students already; we need to come together as an education system and try to make this transition easier on everyone.
Virtual learning shouldn’t be a setback for students and neither should uncontrollable barriers students face. This is something that’s new and may continue for the rest of this year; let’s focus on how we can improve virtual learning instead of picking on the students who come from a different household. Let’s make the virtual classroom a safe space where they have the chance to succeed.
Najah Hendricks is a fourth-year Social Work major, Youth Empowerment & Urban Studies Minor. Nh871270@wcupa.