In policymakers’ quest to successfully reopen schools, there is a significant challenge we must meet head on to ensure the most equitable learning environment for America’s youth: How we build an inclusive learning environment for students who have thrived during remote learning as well as for those who need the more traditional in-school model to excel academically.
Instruction must be the cornerstone of our plan for reopening, but we cannot make it one-size-fits-all. Without the development of an inclusive learning model, we risk losing the innovations and technological advances that have occurred during school closures as well as an opportunity to close equity gaps for our most vulnerable students.
The pandemic has highlighted just how many unique factors go into a student’s ability to successfully learn. For every student who excels in the bustling environment of a classroom, there is another who needs a quiet and solitary space free of distractions to complete their work to the best of their ability. For every student who craves the social environment of school, there is another who is thankful for a reprieve from bullying and dreads the thought of returning in person. For every student who is distracted or unmotivated by online learning tools, there is another who prefers the flexibility of working at their own pace. Many students with disabilities have had limited access to their Individual Education Plans (IEPs) during the pandemic, but while they’ve been at home have not been in such a sensory charged environment, which overall has been a benefit. We need to consider how to meet all of these unique needs in reopening.
There are great examples of how schools and districts have adapted to the challenges, examples that can easily be replicated. In Pittsburgh, they have taken advantage of an existing Remake Learning Days program which utilizes the city’s park system to put together experiential learning programs. Flipped learning is a style that has students introduced to concepts first in a virtual and individualized setting, like with a video, and then diving into a topic during in-person sessions. Some districts have seen enough children thrive in the remote environment that they are already planning to offer a fully-remote option for the 2021-2022 school year.
The pandemic has illuminated something most of us in education already knew — that some children don’t thrive in a traditional school environment. While a large percentage of students need in-person instruction and the socialization that comes from that “normal,” we cannot lose sight of the fact that many children have excelled in remote learning. As we continue to think about what school should look like post-pandemic, let’s be sure we take into account the unique needs of every student to ensure a quality, equitable and ideal education for each of our children.
Dr. Javaid Siddiqi is president and CEO of The Hunt Institute. Follow him on Twitter: @jsiddiqi7