Velma Thomas preschooler

Preschoolers Have the Least Access to Remote Learning

For years, most discussion of tech and young children’s learning has focused on whether screens are appropriate at all for preschoolers. But the pandemic and remote learning are forcing us to think differently about how electronic devices can help the youngest learners.

I’m fortunate to know a local leader in creative use of technology with preschoolers. My friend Jessica Fong, a preschool teacher at Velma Thomas Early Childhood Center in McKinley Park, combines old-school tech like crayons, clay and natural materials with new-school tech like iPads and Chromebooks.

But her families are facing tech challenges with remote learning. Of the 19 families she works with, 10 lack a laptop or tablet. Yet all 19 families are logging in daily–the 10 families without larger devices are using their smartphones. “Many of these families have multiple children, all doing their best to learn remotely, with only one smartphone,” she says.

Chicago Public Schools does not have enough devices to meet the needs of its K-12 students, who have priority in receiving the devices they have. So preschoolers and their families are left to make do as best they can.

Families Are Using Smartphones for Learning

Here’s what Fong has to say about her families and their commitment to their children:

Every week I call each of my families and ask them how they are doing and if they need anything. Most of them are doing as best as they can. A handful are starting to worry about their finances as their hours get cut. Some worry because they’ve lost their jobs all together. It breaks my heart. I wish I could do so much for them. Every time, I find them resources of local organizations providing help, food pantries, and information on unemployment.

The other thing they have been worried about is their children’s education. For some the worry is greater because they know education is how they can ensure their children are successful. Like my parents, they have sacrificed so much to be in this country. They left their families and their motherlands. They live precariously here; some legally and some not. They fear asking for help and putting their name on anything official. Yet now that the need is so great they are willing to do anything to get a device for their children.

But CPS just doesn’t have enough devices for all the children who need them, nowhere near. The youngest students are not a priority. I understand that to some extent, but my students want to learn and I want them to be able to experience all the learning activities I have planned for them.

This Teacher Is Supporting Her Families

Fong has launched a Facebook fundraiser with a goal of $3000. She’s planning to buy 10 Chromebooks for her families who lack a laptop or tablet of their own. She has already raised $1500. As she posted on her fundraiser page: “I already know one will go to the family who props their cell phone on their kitchen table and sits with their child singing the songs and encouraging them from the sidelines. The same family who asked about their IEP services and how that will be fulfilled remotely. Another for the family of five students with the children taking turns using their mom’s phone to do their work and see their classmates.”

I’m sharing information about her work, not just because I hope you’ll contribute to her fundraiser if you can, but to offer a glimpse inside the lives of CPS families who are supporting their children’s learning by any means necessary during this challenging time.

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Maureen Kelleher

Chicago Unheard blog manager Maureen Kelleher also serves as a senior writer and editor at brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and brighter future for every child. Before joining the brightbeam team, she spent a decade as a reporter, blogger and policy analyst. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. A former high school English teacher, she is also the proud mom of a middle-schooler. Find her on Twitter at @KelleherMaureen.

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