Last Friday, Block Club reported that the Chicago Public Schools will release more details about its reopening plans this week. It also quoted Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady as saying some students may have a chance to go back in person this fall, “if we are able to keep our outbreak basically in control, as it is.”
Already, Chief Executive Officer Janice Jackson promised daily temperature checks. Teachers and students must wear masks. But we don’t know much else yet. And there’s a lot I still want to know, not only about safety measures, but also about learning.
It might seem strange to say this, but the pandemic actually presents an opportunity to improve teaching and learning. For example, to practice proper social distancing, we’ll need fewer students in a room at one time. How can we put these smaller class sizes to the best use for student learning? Will CPS bring in tutors to help teachers catch kids up on the learning many missed last spring? Could they even help teachers accelerate learning? Those tutors could be remote or possibly even face-to-face, with volunteers from programs like City Year.
Here’s another place where safety and learning meet. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends outdoor classes wherever feasible. Those outdoor classes could improve our whole nation’s long track record of mediocre science education. Being outdoors gives kids a chance to study weather, plant biology, animal behavior, and more. So far, I’ve heard nothing about this in the endless conversation and speculation about schools reopening. All I hear is–no surprise–money for environmental and outdoor science nonprofits that work with schools is drying up.
Let’s Put Kids First As We Plan Reopening
I’m deeply, deeply tired of our backasswards approach to learning during the pandemic. At every level, leaders have shown a lack of imagination in how to do this work, plus they refuse to figure out how to fund schools creatively and accountably enough to get the job done. I’m sickened by all the handwringing and people saying that we can’t make fundamental changes. I’m done watching some kids get plenty of educational support while others were left hanging.
Our district can still take steps to improve kids’ learning experiences next school year. It’s not too late to create a robust professional development plan that helps teachers up their game with remote learning and prepares them for life in the very different classrooms they’ll face if they get to walk through a school door. Some districts are already thinking through the various scheduling options and preparing to use enhanced tech and volunteers to support learning.
Will CPS seize the moment and show us how a district can make the best of this horrible situation? I hope so.