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Paraprofessionals Know You're Worried, & They're On Your Side

Because the 2020 school year has involved so many unknowns, getting an insider's look at education during COVID-19 can be eye-opening. Teaching assistants understand how the pandemic is affecting both students and instructors, and there's so much paraprofessionals want parents to know about the 2020 school year. It's a weird time for just about everybody involved in education, but their advice may speak to some concerns you have.

For the most part, the paraprofessionals who shared their insight for this piece had one resounding statement: educators are really trying to make the best of the distance learning situation. "I would assure parents that school districts are going above and beyond to make this academic year as productive as possible," Wafa Asad, a teacher's assistant for grades seven and eight in New Jersey, tells Romper via email. "Their children are in good hands." For the most part, educators are doing everything they can to keep students engaged during this strange and unprecedented school year.

"We are... keeping our energy at 110% the whole time, keeping our students motivated, because it's tough on them," Lauren McKeown, a co-teacher for the first-grade boys classes at Southwest Leadership Academy Charter School, tells Romper. "We are trying to make things new and creative every day to try to keep them on their toes and interested in looking at their computer all day." For the most part, parents, teachers, and kids are all in this together.


Virtual Classrooms Are Tough For Teachers, Too

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It's hardly a secret, but virtual learning is very different from time in the classroom. "I wish more parents understood how much easier in-person learning is than virtual (on-line ) learning," says Asad. Even when teachers work hard to make the virtual learning experience easier on students, the overall experience may not be as effective as having pupils in a classroom with more discipline and fewer distractions, she explains.


There Are *So Many* Remote Learning Tools

Although most of the educators interviewed for this piece rely on Zoom video conferences for many online classroom activities, it isn't the only remote learning tool available. Google Classroom and Class Dojo are two more common tools, Dorothy O’Brien, a Classroom Instructional Aide for the K-8 Keystone Academy Charter School, tells Romper. It's helpful if parents are familiar with these tools as well, so here's a basic primer on how to use Zoom from Bustle.

This video from Common Sense on YouTube offers parents a few helpful tips for navigating the Class Dojo App.

Lastly, The Parents' Guide To Google Classroom from Mr. Vacca gives you a quick overview of how to use that tool.


It's About More Than Schoolwork

Education isn't the only thing that teachers are concerned about. "The teachers and majority of the staff have check-ins with their scholars. These check-ins aren't exclusively academic because remote learning can't just be focused on schoolwork," Leathett Jackson, an Instructional Assistant for Grades 6-8 at the Global Leadership Academy Charter School tells Romper. "It's like finding tempo — how are you doing? How's your technology? How is home? What are you struggling with? Do you need us to speak to anybody for you? So it's not just academic because you can fall behind if you're not emotionally ready," says Jackson. Educators are trying to address each child's learning situation as a whole.


In-Classroom Learning Has Special Precautions

For students who do visit the classroom in-person, general rules about COVID-19 safety still apply. "Masks are required all the time for all students and staff inside the building. It has been an adjustment for students," Ms. Quatina Littles, Director of Administration at West Philadelphia Achievement Charter Elementary School, tells Romper. The children do get a break from the masks when the weather is nice outside and they practice proper social distancing. "Inside the building, we're trying to give them incentives to keep them on because it still is a challenge for some of them," says Littles.

Masks aren't the only safety measure for many schools, however. The Special Education students who attend an optional class in-person typically eat breakfast in their classrooms, and their desks are provided with protective shields, as Littles further explains.


Kids Need Workspace At Home

The place in your home where distance learning takes place can make a lot of difference. "Giving them their space and providing an appropriate place in the house where there’s no distractions" is an excellent way to help support your child's education, as Asad explains. Granted, if there are multiple people trying to attend class and work all at once in the same home, this may be easier said than done. If you'd like to reclaim the kitchen table, then consider investing in a desk for homeschooling, whether it's a simple option from IKEA or a cool kinesthetic desk, as explained in Romper.


Breaks Are Necessary

Your kid may not spend every moment of virtual school on the computer, and that's by design. "We also have been trying to notice if students have Zoom fatigue or fatigue with technology, and so we have been trying to give them more breaks," as Megan Kinsey, Kindergarten Instructional Coach at West Philadelphia Achievement Charter Elementary School, tells Romper. Assignments that don't require a device, such as reading a book, are one way to give kids a few moments away from the screen, says Kinsey. It also provides another option for kids who don't learn best through virtual education.


Interactivity Is Key

Teachers are striving to keep the element of interactivity going in the virtual classroom as well. "We are trying out as many new platforms as possible, exploring as many interactive ways we can teach them and have them interact with us," says McKeown. "We are using websites like Quizzes and Pear Deck, which allows more interactivity in how they give answers and enables them to do things like annotate on their own screen." This gives the students a chance to be more involved in their education throughout the day.


Extra Help Is Still Available

For children who may need some extra time with a subject, extra help is available. This is how it works at one school. "For Math and Reading Intervention, we respond through a group and a team approach, working in tiers," says Jackson. "My group serves tier one and tier two scholars who are slightly ahead or on grade level but have the possibility of falling behind. The interventionists in the next group serves tier two and tier three, which are the scholars who might be struggling or are more than two grade levels behind. The teachers work with all the tiers." It's not unusual for students to need extra help now and then, so see what preparations your school has in place.


Parents Are Partners

Education is truly a team effort in 2020. "I found that we have blessed parents because almost all of my kids have adults sitting with them at home," says Kinsey. "So, like right now because we're all virtual, it really is a partnership between the families and the teachers." It's a lot of work for everyone involved, but both educators and teachers can work together to help students make the most of the 2020 school year.


Wafa Asad, a teacher's assistant in New Jersey

Leathett Jackson, Instructional Assistant for Grades 6-8 at the Global Leadership Academy Charter School

Megan Kinsey, Kindergarten Instructional Coach at West Philadelphia Achievement Charter Elementary School

Lauren McKeown, a Co-Teacher for the First Grade Boys Classes at Southwest Leadership Academy Charter School

Dorothy O’Brien, Classroom Instructional Aide for the K-8 Keystone Academy Charter School