Pandemic diary (Part 3) — is it over yet?

We’re into the second “quadmester” of grade 9. It’s been a wild ride. We’ve had huge ups and downs. We’ve tried to stay positive, but we’re ready for this to be over. School is harder. Everything is harder. Even hope is harder. Because despite our efforts to stay home, stay safe, Covid just keeps getting worse.

We’re incredibly grateful that our daughter has the opportunity to learn online, but virtual school has presented many challenges:

  1. it’s been tough emotionally/socially
  2. the work load has been heavy, the pace too fast
  3. we haven’t see much in the way of tangible support

School isn’t easy for our kids at the best of time, but now they are dealing with Covid stress and adapting to new a learning environment, with even less help. Learning supports have gone from bad to worse and the entire design (quadmester system) equals brain overload.

Debbie Reber, a parenting activist, New York Times bestselling author, and the founder of TiLT Parenting, says that differently wired children are struggling with higher-than-normal levels of frustration, sadness and school work. A worst case scenario for our kids.

“We know that learning will not happen if those other [socio-emotional] needs are not met,” explains Debbie.

Abacus surveyed Canadian youth and found that:

“Two-thirds of youth who are in school say the pandemic situation has made it more difficult for them to learn. And 67% are struggling to access the supports they need to learn as a result. Half have started rethinking their plans for education.”

The Ontario Human Rights Commission and AODA aliance put out statements raising concerns that special education requirements not being met. In the US, the government’s accountability office described the problems (along with some of the solutions).

Barriers to learning during the pandemic

At Decoding Dyslexia Ontario, we compiled a list of barriers identified by parents and students in the Ottawa public school board:

● No access to IEP or a delayed IEP

● IEPs that are in place are not being followed

● No access to or not enough learning support teachers and none/not enough one-on-one support

● Quadmester system posing barriers to learning; accelerated learning without accommodations and supports makes it hard for dyslexic/LD kids to keep up

● Inaccessible technologies and document formats, such as PDFs

● Lack of direct instructional support, inaccessible curriculum, and heavy workload causing emotional distress for students (“soul-crushing”, “feels worthless and stupid”, “looking like the dumb kid”)

● Lack of communication between school and families, and lack of support, places heavy onus on parents to assist children with homework, and other needs

Tips to help get through this

Until this is over…what do we do?

Debbie Reber offers the following tips:

  • now is the time to lower the bar on academic achievement and focus on social and emotional well-being
  • define “success” during the pandemic for your family; what would feel good to accomplish this year? (e.g. physical fitness as opposed to high marks)
  • create a “plan for success” with your kids
  • create a nice workspace, build in breaks to the school day, and set up charging stations (nothing worse than finding out the earphones or laptops are low on battery just as school is about to start!)
  • advocate – we have the right to ask for changes to IEPs; take notes and keep track of what’s not working/what is working
  • social challenges: “the hardest thing to deal with…[is that our kids] already small social lives have disappeared;” reach out for online support groups/virtual play dates, keep them connected to others outside the home even for a little bit of time each day
  • kids are hating life right now – they feel they are losing time, a year in a child’s life feels endless; as parents and caregivers, we must practice empathy

We find that what worked before, is even more relevant now. We focus on the positives: The quick commute from bedroom to virtual school. Eating lunch together (no more soggy sandwiches). Puppy cuddles anytime you want them. No dress code. Snacking and napping encouraged. Do your best, and the rest will follow. And remember, this too shall pass.

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