The Extraordinary Challenges Particular Schooling College students Face In Extraordinary Occasions
Kate Doctor’s four year old completed a year of virtual preschool. It didn’t go well.
While the long-term effects are still unknown, there is no question that virtual learning caused by a pandemic has left many students behind. As schools across the state reopen for the new academic year, many are devoting time to re-educating students about what they may have missed in the past year.
This has exacerbated the problems that already existed with special education in America. ParentsTogether, a national parenting organization, conducted a survey in which nearly 40% of parents say that their child is not following their learning plan. The survey also found that special education students were twice as likely to do little to no distance learning as their peers.
In February, the General Assembly passed law instructing the state’s Department of Education and Education Committee to “improve the administration and oversight of special education across the Commonwealth.” As the pandemic made things difficult, children with special needs and their parents felt even more left behind.
That happened for Kate Doctor, a mother of three, a public school teacher and a special education teacher.
“Has he improved any skills or learned anything from online preschool?” asks doctor. “Not. One. Thing. Not one thing.”
When their four-year-old son Harris enters second preschool, Virginia public schools return to face-to-face tuition.
“It’s going to be tough,” said Doctor. “But it’s getting better.”
Last month, the Biden government allocated over $ 3 billion from the American Rescue Plan to special schools, of which $ 77.5 million went to schools in Virginia. The money is intended for children between the ages of three and 21 who receive grants for their needs. Such grants are intended to make early intervention and preschools “even stronger than before the pandemic”.
“The law says every student has the right to study in the least restrictive environment, and that’s where everyone usually gets hung up,” said Kate Doctor, parent and attorney. “What is the least restrictive environment for this student that we can serve?”
In addition to raising three children, Doctor is also a teacher at a Chesterfield County public school. That meant she taught while navigating virtual learning as a parent at the same time. For the past year, her house has felt more like a schoolhouse than home.
For Harris, virtual preschool meant sitting in front of a screen and watching his teacher identify colors and shapes, or set up a time for history. At his age he needs active stimulation, said Doctor, “so he said, ‘I’m out’.”
Before the pandemic, Doctor attended inclusive learning advocacy training at Radford University. She learned that many schools use a “pull-out” method of learning, where children with atypical needs are removed from typical classrooms. While the teacher-student relationship can be helpful, Doctor sees a missed study opportunity for both student groups.
“It’s that level of empathy, and the sooner we can teach it, the better we will all be,” said Doctor. “I think these kids are learning to be really great cheerleaders, and they’re also learning to appreciate the little things.”
The doctor is suspicious of the increased use of “life skills” programs by the state as a substitute for other special education structures. Instead of focusing on reading and math skills, some special schools teach cleaning and cooking.
“I think they are fabulous,” she said. “You should know some basic skills, but I’m assuming I’ll have to teach these things to my other two children, so I’m assuming I have to teach Harris that too.”
The doctor sees the value of inclusive learning for typical learners as well. In addition to learning math, reading, and history, she sees the opportunity to gain experiences that are different from her own.
“I’ve heard amazing things about children who are excited and cheering because Harris said their name the first time and they said, ‘He said my name because we’re friends!’ They value human interaction more than ‘I got all the answers right’ when we’re all in it, ”she said.
Democratic Governor Ralph Northam announced in August that all Virginia students, teachers and staff must wear masks.
The doctor does not see the masks as a barrier, but as an opportunity.
“[Last year] There were just so many medical concerns involved and hopefully to think that we can do this safely is exciting, ”said Doctor. “I’m looking forward to hopefully building a sense of community and rallying the troops and getting these issues back on track.”