Across our nation, headlines and social media are announcing that “schools are closed” because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here in Maine, our schools continue to provide educational services, social and emotional support and child nutrition, even though we are unable to provide in-person classroom instruction during this public health emergency. With very little notice, school and district leaders made extraordinarily difficult and courageous decisions based on the health and safety of their students, staff and communities. Educators have set aside years of careful preparation, materials and plans, stepping into brand-new roles as providers of remote emergency education – literally reinventing their practice overnight.

The impacts of the pandemic reach across every aspect of our daily lives, and many families are struggling with lost jobs, lack of child care and lack of access to even basic provisions. We recognize that remote/distance education may create an additional hardship, as your kitchen tables have suddenly become combination home offices and classrooms, and parents and caregivers are likely feeling overwhelmed. It is extremely disorienting when familiar businesses, supports, services, social interactions and regular activities are suddenly, collectively absent from our lives. Prioritization can be difficult in such circumstances, because everything we’ve temporarily lost feels so very important and even small frustrations can become inflated.

Maine families, you are not in this alone. We hear you, we are with you and we will all get through this together. You have always been your child’s most important teacher, and the critical lessons you’re teaching them now include resilience, patience (with self and others) and adaptability. Your schools and teachers are providing learning opportunities to help create routine, to maintain connections and to provide grade-appropriate materials for engagement and enrichment. We know, however, that many homes lack internet connection, sufficient space or materials for projects and other amenities to support some of the learning activities that our schools are providing remotely.

We know that many students have had to assume adult responsibilities – like supervising younger siblings or taking a job at the grocery store to supplement a parent’s lost wages. We know that some parents and caregivers are arriving home exhausted from essential work responsibilities to face the prospect of somehow reproducing a school day for children in different grade levels, sharing one computer. Social media often adds even more pressure, with posts that offer idyllic (and likely heavily edited) versions of the successful home classroom.

If you are struggling with the management of emergency education for your child, please note the following:

• You are surviving within a state of emergency. Take a deep breath and prioritize health and safety above all; then prioritize relationships, emotional well-being and mental health; take some time to recognize the small gifts in this situation and point them out to your child.

• Learning will happen. It is happening every minute in your child’s magnificent, fast-wiring brain – children and adolescents are constantly building the neural architectural structures that will later house unimaginable ideas, innovations and solutions (perhaps even the cure for coronaviruses)!

• In a state of emergency, academic content is secondary to thinking skills – and these can be taught and practiced in any setting. (In fact, “real world” situations create the ideal conditions.) Encourage imagination, curiosity and creativity; encourage critical thinking by asking open-ended questions, and – without even thinking about it – you’re encouraging collaborative problem solving as you let your children argue over who goes first or whose piece was bigger!

• We are here for you. Schools are using emergency education plans that have been developed under the unprecedented circumstances we face together. These plans are different in response to unique community needs, and are under continual revision as this dynamic situation unfolds. Teachers, counselors and social workers, school staff members and administrators are available to support you and your children, so please reach out as needed – communication between families and schools is more important now than ever.

• Your children are likely experiencing symptoms of the grieving process. They have lost familiar routines and supports, and are likely feeling that same lack of predictability and control that has all of us reeling. As you practice being patient with yourself and with them, you’re modeling important coping skills that will serve them well on into the future.

• Families of the Class of 2020 graduating seniors: Yes, the rites of passage will look very different this year and it is both normal and OK for them (and for you) to be feeling angry, sad, cheated and confused. Please take comfort in the fact that Maine students and educators are especially resilient and innovative; the alternative celebrations they’ll design will be among the most unforgettable in all of history. Maine seniors will be joined by 3.8 million others in this extraordinary experience, and the legacy of our nation’s 2020 graduates will serve as a source of pride, strength and hope for all of us.

Maine Department of Education and the dedicated leaders, educators and staff at Maine schools have your back as you and your children find your path through this unprecedented experience. Please check our growing website for supportive resources at www.maine.gov/doe/continuityoflearning/parent, and please take care of yourselves and your loved ones. We will get through this together.

 


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