We believe that all Americans should do their part to curb the spread of COVID-19. That is why today, we are requesting that our partners and participants not plan in-person events during National School Choice Week 2021 (January 24-30). We cannot in good conscience provide support, assistance, or materials for such events in 2021.
Over the past several years, School Choice Week has grown from an effort that focuses primarily on one week of events, to a year-round effort that also provides trusted, practical information for parents who seek to choose education options that meet their children’s needs. This year, we intend to scale up these efforts even more, as an unprecedented number of parents across the country seek answers and flexibility in their children’s education. This is a tremendous national need that must be met, and our team will do everything we can to help meet it.
In addition, we encourage the schools, homeschool groups, organizations, and individuals who usually hold events during National School Choice Week to continue to use their resourcefulness and creativity to raise awareness about school choice in new ways. The possibilities are practically endless, from student art competitions, online information sessions, virtual movie nights, school and home decoration, and car parades. In fact, our team is excited to provide schools and organizations with free activity kits to help bring these ideas to life, and we will be rolling out a variety of project ideas and inspiration in the months to come.
This unique time in our country requires us all to work hard at working together and helping families and schools that are struggling. Together, we will continue to shine a spotlight on effective education options for every child by developing practical resources about K-12 education for families, spotlighting exceptional educators, assisting parents as they navigate remote learning, and supporting the individual talents of students.
Andrew R. Campanella, President, National School Choice Week
With the school year winding down, there is a strange stillness in the air in the absence of the pomp, circumstance, and tradition of graduation festivities. For seniors, this time of year is typically filled with field trips, prom, yearbook signings, and graduation ceremonies. But what about the class that has faced an unprecedented senior year? Will they get the opportunity they have worked for, to walk across that stage and celebrate with their peers? What does a socially distant graduation look like?
48 of the 50 states, including D.C., have ordered or recommended schools close for the remainder of the academic year. While it may not be the graduation ceremony that they had planned on, and not the one you see in TV and movies, schools around the country are putting on their thinking caps to come up with innovative ways to recognize their seniors: by car, computer, community advertising, and even chair-lift!
For someschools in Nevada, this means delaying graduation ceremonies until they can be safely held. Bishop Gorman High School, a private Catholic school in Nevada, has decided to hold graduation events in mid-July. Seniors at the University of Nevada will be allowed to come back and graduate with the Fall 2020 or Spring 2021 ceremonies.
Leadership Prep School in Frisco, Texas has determined that the best way for them to still have graduation is anoutdoor ceremony. They will use their parking lot and plan to set chairs eight feet apart. While masks and gloves will be optional for students, they plan to make the ceremony itself contactless. A staff member with gloves will put each student’s diploma on a table and then step back as the students walk by to get it.
Like the delivery of instruction, many graduation ceremonies have made the jump to the virtual world. Broward County Public Schools is hosting virtual graduations for each of their high schools. The virtual graduations, which will include speeches and senior roll-call, will stream on YouTube and be broadcast on TV.
Louisville High School in Ohio is taking a pre-recorded approach to graduation. Speeches that would be typically given during the ceremony are being pre-recorded. The school is also handing out diplomas through designated times. Seniors and family members (wearing masks) come during their time slot, walk across the stage, and receive their diploma. Once all speeches and walks have been recorded, they will be compiled into one video and shared during the school’s original graduation date.
One solution for having a graduation while social distancing? Staying in your car! Many schools are turning to vehicles to provide students with a ceremony while keeping them safe.
While graduation ceremonies themselves may be in limbo, schools are going above and beyond to make sure that their seniors still feel the love.
On Track Academy honored their seniors byhanging their graduation photos on the fence at the school. They plan to leave the photos up until the senior class has a drive-through viewing, then they will give the signs to the graduate. In Minnesota, St. Peter High School is taking senior photos and inserting a graduation special section into an edition of the St. Peter Herald. The newspaper has also added a virtual graduation section to its website.
KOAA News5 in Southern Colorado has also taken to the internet to recognize 2020 graduates. They put a form on their website as part of their “Congrats to Grads” campaign. Family and friends can fill out the website form with photos and information about a graduate. The profile will be added to a Congrats to Grads gallery and could be used on-air and online!
The Utica Academy of Science Charter School congratulated their seniors while maintaining social distancing. Teachers and school administrators decorated their cars with signs and messages on the windows. They then drove by each senior student’s home to recognize the hard work and dedication they put into their academic career.
Has your school come up with a creative way to recognize the Class of 2020? Want to share your alternative graduation plans with us? Send us a message at[email protected] to let us know!
Before COVID-19 pushed schools around the country online, Sarah Betz already worked in a virtual environment. Betz is a teacher at the Ohio Distance and Electronic Learning Academy, where she leads online classes for students who have moderate to intensive disabilities and require a modified curriculum.
Here are Betz’s tips and insights for helping children with special needs learn online.
NSCW: What are best practices you’ve developed for working in special ed. and online learning?
Sarah Betz: For Math, we use Google Drawings when working with manipulatives. For students to practice work, I use Pear Deck in conjunction with Google Slides, which allows students to demonstrate their understanding without their peers seeing the answers. I also record readings using a screen recording program, upload the readings to YouTube, and then embed the YouTube video into Canvas, our learning management system. We also incorporate the Unique Learning System’s monthly lessons for science and social studies. I project readings by sharing my screen and have students enable their microphones and read the text.
NSCW: What’s the biggest difference between online learning and traditional classroom learning?
Betz: The biggest difference is that I’m not in front of or physically with my students when I’m teaching. While some students have their web cams turned on during our live class sessions, allowing me to know that they are listening and paying attention, I can’t always tell with students who don’t have their web cams on. I can, however, ask students questions and have them respond in the chat box to check for understanding and make sure they are focused.
NSCW: How have you seen children express their unique personalities and talents online?
Betz: My students LOVE to express themselves using their microphones and web cams during live class. They tell me about what they had for dinner, what their plans are for the weekend, and anything else they want to share. Parents will send me pictures of their child completing an activity or of something special they did outside of school. I also incorporate opportunities for students to share stories in assignments, which helps me to get to know more about them.
NSCW: Are there aspects of online learning that pose challenges for special education?
Betz: Being online is especially difficult in a multi-disabilities classroom when students require more hands-on assistance. I can provide them with Chrome extensions for text to speech and to write on the screen, but I can’t always see where they are struggling as I could if I were in the brick and mortar classroom. Students sometimes struggle with asking for help because they don’t always have the ability to ask for help, whether it be verbally or through text (typing).
For both families and teachers, ask for help. You might learn about a cool new resource while getting your questions answered. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help, and don’t be afraid to fail. – Sarah Betz
NSCW: How can districts transition online without leaving special education students behind?
Betz: [Teachers] can suggest activities for families to complete during the extended breaks to ensure that the child can stay in a routine. When making the transition to online learning, it is important to create guides, especially videos, to help everyone learn how to navigate to lessons. Districts need to establish clear expectations for how much time needs to be spent on school daily, and when assignments need to be completed. Districts also need to make sure that alternate resources, such as hard copies of texts and assignments, are available to all students. This allows special education students to access the curriculum and allows students without technology to continue learning.
NSCW: What encouragement would you give to those feeling overwhelmed by the educational challenges caused by COVID-19?
Betz: Know that you aren’t alone. We are all struggling. It will take time to figure out a new routine, and that’s okay. Things won’t be perfect. Ask for help, because chances are that you aren’t the only one struggling.
NSCW: Are there online resources or at-home activities you can recommend for special education students?
Betz: Cooking! It is a great way to practice important life skills needed for independence. Let the kids help measure, stir, and cook the food. Let them read the recipe.
There are many great online resources available to families such as Epic, which is a website with thousands of books that students can read and listen to, and IXL, which offers practice in the four core subject areas for grades K-8. YouTube offers many great educational videos to help reinforce concepts, as well as Khan Academy.
[A routine] will make learning and homework time much easier. Set a schedule for when schoolwork needs to be done. If possible, make it during the school day when teachers are available to provide help.
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How will Coronavirus impact my child’s school?
The answer depends on where you live and what school your child attends. As of March 18, 39 states have closed schools. Your local school or school district should provide updates on their COVID-19 plans, including whether a meal distribution plan is available. In addition, this map from Education Week tracks school closures nationwide and is being updated at least twice a day.
Some families affected by COVID-19 have expressed interest in signing up for online school. Across the country, 375,000 students already attend online school in the U.S., and these options are available in more than half of U.S. states. Online schooling usually offers flexible schedules that can accommodate a variety of health needs.
I’m interested in homeschooling. How do I get started?
Every state has its own homeschooling policies. But, parents in every state have the freedom to educate their children in the home.
Some education experts anticipate that COVID-19 may generate increased interest in homeschooling. For example, Kevin Carey, vice president for education policy at New America, has said that the coronavirus could lead to “a vast unplanned experiment in mass home-schooling.”
Currently, approximately two million students in America are homeschooled. Some families have tried this outside-the-box education choice full-time and never turned back! Even if this education option isn’t your long-term plan for your family, there may be a season of life where it becomes the right fit for now.
What can I do to augment my child’s learning if school is cancelled?
Fortunately, there are more educational resources accessible from home than ever before. Here is a list of free education resources you and your student can use to continue the learning journey, even if classes are cancelled.As long as you have an internet connection, you can use these online resources to unlock hours of learning:
Khan Academy – Khan Academy offers free courses of all grade levels to help students master subjects and accelerate their learning. Through these courses, Kahn Academy allows students to personalize their learning and learn at their own pace.
PBS LearningMedia – PBS LearningMedia provides students with free lesson plans, videos, and games aligned with standards they are learning in the classroom.
TEDEd – TEDEd brings lessons to life for students through animation. TEDEd’s goal is to ignite curiosity among learners. To do this, TEDEd collects the best teacher lessons around the world. Then, it turns them into shareable animated videos for students.
PowerMyLearning Connect – PowerMyLearning Connect offers curated learning from a variety of online platforms. K-12 students can access free content in all core subjects and many electives, with the ability to choose standard aligned lessons.
BrainPOP – BrainPOP provides animated interactive lessons, quizzes, and games for core subjects and a variety of electives.
No Red Ink– No Red Ink is a free resource for online writing and grammar practice.
Lumosity – Lumosity offers free brain games to keep student minds actively engaged. For example, the games use problem solving, critical thinking, and memory to keep students on their toes and strengthen their skills.
Duolingo– Duolingo helps students keep up with foreign language skills. Duolingo offers 30+ languages so students can start learning a variety of languages that interest them. Or, students can use Duolingo to practice the foreign languages they are already learning in the classroom.
EVERFI – EVERFI offers free supplemental lessons for the whole student in areas of Finance, SEL, Health, College/Career Readiness, and related topics.
Edmentum’s Study Island for Home – Through Edmentum’s Study Island for Home, parents can access trusted K-12 programs tailored to state standards. Families can receive one year free by using the code: EdmentumSupport2020. Note that registration will require a credit card and you will see what looks like an auto-renewal, but Edmentum will not auto-renew or charge your credit card.
Carnegie Mellon University’s CS Academy – Looking to introduce your kids to Python programming? CMU CS Academy is a free online, interactive high school computer science curriculum. By signing up for a mentor account, families can access the CS0 course. This course includes about 40 hours of instruction and is intended for middle school, out-of-school programs, and summer camp settings.
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Where can I learn more about coronavirus’ impact on K-12 education?
To get a better sense of how COVID-19 is impacting K-12 education, check out these articles:
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