We must rethink school as we knew it. The former school model is unattainable given current circumstances.

While the impetus is to rush into one-size-fits-all solutions, what if we looked beyond the options most districts are offering of full-time/in-person versus full-time/remote learning and invested in alternative approaches that prioritize students’ social, emotional, physical, and academic needs?

Solving for learning during COVID is a group challenge, and opportunity.

Amy Anderson and Michele Morenz

Here are some ways to potentially move forward:

  • Center around those with the greatest needs. While some students can succeed in a virtual model, others struggle. This includes, but is not limited to, students who have learning or physical disabilities, are experiencing homelessness or poverty or have compromised health conditions, mental health challenges or language needs. Creating learning plans in their best interest requires attention to who they are as learners and what they and their families need at various points along the way. This cannot be done via standardized instructional delivery approaches. Groups of families could be paired with learner advocates who are experts at crafting child-centered plans and want to work in creative ways to maintain relationships and interactions for these students. Perhaps this could include a mix of in-person schooling in small groups, some elements of online learning and support from other learning providers. 
  • Invest in people and their ideas. Schools serve two primary purposes: educating children and providing child care for working families. Given the complicated nature of this pandemic, it isn’t fair, nor possible, for schools to provide the breadth and depth of learning and care needed at this time. Rethinking the “village” required to support students is necessary.  Crafting learning networks organized by families, teachers or community providers who team together to share the responsibilities is possible, and already happening. Chat rooms are teeming with parents crafting learning “pods” or hosting small cohorts of learners in their homes to accommodate socialization, childcare and academic support. We appreciate these creative solutions, and we recognize that these approaches can exacerbate systemic inequities.  So, we must engage and invest in ideas generated by people residing in communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 to prioritize solving their challenges collaboratively, and with empathy.
  • Leverage under-utilized community assets. We need to rely on assets beyond schools this fall. Children could spread out across communities, so as not to overburden school buildings and risk safety precautions, and gather in small groups at recreational centers, libraries or vacant office buildings like the Learning Hubs that are opening in San Francisco this Fall. Districts could supplement remote learning with engaging experiences, utilizing resources like CommunityShare and OutSchool or by partnering with community providers like Craftsman & Apprentice, Art Garage, or Museum of Nature & Science to offer space for learning and relevant programming. What if every family below a particular income threshold received a learning stipend to supplement school-based learning with these types of resources?
  • Adjust staffing models: The transition to remote learning cannot fall solely on teachers’ plates, nor should we hold on tight to a classroom-oriented model with one teacher for every 30-plus students. What if we thought creatively about our education workforce? How might we re-design instructional and student supports to align the expertise and talents of educators more purposefully around learners? Academic staff could focus on select families to provide individualized support for struggling students. Teaching assistants could maintain adult/learner relationships with weekly check-ins. Teachers could design new ways to instruct students across schools that are better suited for remote learning. Public Impact’s Opportunity Culture initiative offers some interesting models along these lines in response to COVID-19. 

As we anticipate school “opening,” our nation is riddled with more questions than answers. We clearly need a more human-centered response to schooling this fall.

One size fits all will not work. We can’t expect people to continue to hang tight, awaiting decisions. We will lose kids and educators if we don’t wake up and do something different. 

It isn’t too late to dedicate energy and resources toward inventing safer, better remote-learning solutions. We hope the ideas presented here illustrate that we can’t lose sight of the value we put on humanity as we make decisions during a time where much is politicized.  

As we continue to navigate this pandemic, let’s use this struggle as an opportunity to re-envision the way that the institution of school is but one part of a larger ecosystem that supports our children and nation’s future.

Amy Anderson is Co-Founder and Executive Director at RESCHOOL, a non-profit organization that is designing a more equitable education system in Colorado in partnership with families, educators and communities. Michele Morenz is an Instructional Coach and Intervention Lead at the Downtown Denver Expeditionary School.

The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to opinion@coloradosun.com.

Special to The Colorado Sun