Particular Schooling Academics, Dad and mom, and College students Are All ‘Attempting to Determine It Out As We Go’ When It Involves Returning to College

Welcome to LA TACO’s new monthly education column, The LA Public School Report. If you have story tips, send them to [email protected] for consideration.

Before the pandemic, if you asked seventh grader Nicolas Lara to walk you through his weekly routine, he would tell you his preparation would start the night before. He would make sure to prepare his clothes for school and put them aside before going to bed.

The next day his routine was straightforward and went something like this:

Get up, shower at 6am, get dressed, spray cologne (he likes to smell nice), eat, and by 7am he was ready for his day and anxiously awaiting the arrival of the school bus in front of his house.

For special needs children like 12-year-old Nicolas, who was diagnosed with high-functioning autism, that daily routine was derailed in 2020 when COVID-19 caused the closure of schools across the country. And while it’s safe to say the sudden change affected everyone, it can trigger a fit of anger and anxiety when Nicolas’ routine isn’t right. Something as small as the bus showing up a minute later than usual or not being able to shower next deduction Children and people like Nicolas.

“It was hard. That goes for ‘normal’ kids too. They depend on a routine, just like their parents, to get to work on time, to get to school on time,” said his father Ricardo Lara. “So we leave we all have a schedule, but more than that, I think under-the-spectrum kids really rely on it because it’s how they navigate time and how they get through their day.”

Lara explained that there is no real routine in Zoom classes because a student sits in front of a screen all day. There is no preparation of clothes the night before and no break or lunch with her friends. And for students like his son who need special attention, gathering information online can be difficult. Zoom classes also mean the student doesn’t get the extra support and resources that a student would get in a classroom setting.

I think the pandemic has really given us time to rethink education, to rethink standard testing, grading and a lot more,” she said via Zoom. “What is really important to these students? This new school year seems like there’s more of a focus on just building a new routine that works for everyone involved.”

“For example, we had to hire a babysitter who was here while he was on Zoom so she could play the role of a teacher’s assistant. [They] Help them teach or do one-on-ones with students,” he said over the phone. “My son has a learning disability and finds it difficult to read and write, so these teacher aids are a big help in providing that extra support.”

Although schools like Nicolas’ have returned to face-to-face teaching, teachers and students across the spectrum have expressed a variety of challenges. According to a survey conducted with 106 special education teachersbehavioral specialists, and speech-language pathologists working with autistic students, many reported “making the best of a bad situation” and “constantly trying to use ‘trial & error’ to find the best way for their students to eLearn.”

Gabriel Serrano, a special education teacher at Emelita Elementary School, can only agree. He said it was difficult to accommodate his students with special needs during distance learning. “I was definitely struggling to implement things and it honestly felt like we were all doing damage control.”

Elementary school teacher Gabriel Serrano teaches a mix of kindergarten, 1st and 2nd graders with special needs. Photo courtesy of Gabriel Serrano.

Serrano, who teaches a mix of kindergarten, first and second graders, said one of the hardest things they’ve had to deal with as special education teachers is the overwhelming lack of staff. LA Unified is reported to have been struggling to fill since the pandemic began and during these spikes in COVID and Omicron cases in Los Angeles 600 vacancies for teachers.

“Now that we’re back in person, we don’t have enough people to fill all the roles, there are vacancies but there just aren’t people to fill them,” Serrano said. “We have to duplicate assignments and play different roles, which can be stressful, but we push through for the students.”

Mr Serrano said he has had to close his class several times in recent weeks because someone has tested positive or been exposed. And when certain students are absent due to COVID, teachers are asked to integrate the quarantined students via Zoom while teaching in person. This can be difficult when teaching students with special needs. In his case he would be teaching his personal class and with the support of his help he would then have to stand in a corner with his computer to teach students back home.

“We’re all just trying to figure it out as we go. If my tools are missing, it’s hard. But for me at least, I try to keep it as non-intrusive as possible for the students,” Serrano said. “There’s no roadmap on how to navigate this properly because none of us have ever experienced it before.”

It’s important to note that while in-person learning can be difficult, some students have adapted well to distance learning. Serrano and teachers like Jo Anna Mixpe Ley, a 9th grade English teacher at Roosevelt High School’s MSTMA, said some of her students are doing better online than in person. “For students who are shy or have social anxiety, online learning has helped them,” she said.

And this was proven last spring when her students were given the opportunity to return to face-to-face classes, she only had two students who showed up. By the end of the year, she said only one student would show up for class, a complete contrast to this semester when her students were all allowed to return.

I think the pandemic has really given us time to rethink education, to rethink standard testing, grading and a lot more,” she said via Zoom. “What is really important to these students? This new school year seems like there’s more of a focus on just building a new routine that works for everyone involved.”

Although students with special needs all require special attention, these needs combined with navigating the school can present different challenges depending on what their life at home is like. A big challenge for Lara in distance learning was navigating a computer for Nicolas. His 15-year-old son had to teach him how to email, upload photos and submit his children’s homework online.

Personal learning is vital for his son, not only because it allows him to better absorb the information being conveyed, but it also helps Nicolas to develop his social skills. When LA TACO asked Nicolas what he misses most about the school about distance learning, he reiterated what his father had said. “My teacher. My friends.”

When Lara was asked how the first few weeks back at school had been and what he thinks that says about the rest of the school year, Lara said he was confident things would “settle down” as the year progressed.

“We’re taking everything on a day-to-day basis, and if things should come down again, we have no choice but to adapt, but hopefully with more resources this time,” Lara said. “As for Nikkies (Nicolas), he would 100% prefer to be in school. Now that they’re personal, he’s got a bit of that “normal” back. The highlight of his day is still the morning bus.”


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