Many states have decided to close schools through the end of the year as the number COVID-19 cases continues to rise. Now, school districts and parents are planning for extended digital learning and the pivotal events that had to be canceled.
The graduating class of 2020 won't get to walk across the stage in cap and gown, a momentous event that many remember for a lifetime.
"These are trying times for everybody,” Our seniors, in many ways, feel cheated,” said Dr. Mike Looney, superintendent of Fulton County Schools in Georgia. “Some of the most precious memories that students carry forward when they graduate is these last couple months of school where they have senior activities, prom and obviously the graduation ceremony."
Dr. Looney says school leaders are realizing many of these plans have been severely impacted. He says some schools are choosing to do their own, unique or virtual ceremonies to make up for it.
"Right now, it's painful. But they're going to come up with some creative innovative ideas, and I'm hopeful this will be a positive experience instead of a negative one," he said.
At least 11 states nationwide have announced school closures will extend through the end of the 2019-20 school year. Parents are now coming to terms with the fact that digital learning, on top of working from home, will continue for another two months.
"We were expecting it,” said Stephanie Behrens, a parent with two children who are learning from home. “It wasn't a huge surprise. However, it still came as a little bit of a shock when reality finally hits."
More than the continued digital learning and separation from friends, are the missed pivotal events that were supposed to happen for Behrens' 8th-grader, who is preparing to start high school next year.
"We're missing all that,” she explained. “So, the meetings all dealing with the transition is all being done on the phone and that's hard because usually you get to go to the high school, you get to visit, you get to get a lay of the land, and that's not happening.”
While school leaders and parents across the country begin to plan for what the rest of the year will look like, some educators say the quarantine and subsequent school shut downs is bringing light to new questions about what education should look like.
"What I think this crisis has done, if there is a silver lining, is really allowed for real core issues in education to bubble to the surface,” said Manual Bonilla, president of the Fresno Teachers Association in California. “So, the issue of education and what is education: is education about learning or about getting a grade?"
Bonilla says these questions are making educators think about how education could be redesigned once students are physically back in the classroom. For one, the extra effort to keep students engaged while they're not in the classroom. Until then, Dr. Looney says his district is simplifying the way elementary and middle school students are graded.
"The only way to have a negative grade impact is if they do not engage in work,” Dr. Looney said. “They'll receive an ‘I’ and there will be an expectation for them to make that up. We've already begun planning for Summer Session 1 and Summer Session 2.”
"The reality is education is not going to look the same under this temporary crisis nor should it,” said Bonilla. “It's an unprecedented crisis for a reason, right? So, work doesn't look the same, life doesn't look the same and so by virtue, education isn't going to look the same.”.
And while we're all relying on technology to get us through and make connections, Bonilla says the fact that many of us are still desperate for face-to-face interactions is a good thing.
"We use technology to rebuild those relationships and find that connectivity,” said Bonilla. “That happens in a very real space in the classroom.”