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How To Best Engage A Child During Shutdown

A sign is pictured Monday outside George Washington Middle School in Jamestown. Superintendent Bret Apthorpe recently spoke on how much time children should be spending each day on school work. P-J photo by Eric Tichy

How much time should children spend on school work each day while schools are closed due to COVID-19?

It’s a question that will be answered in homes throughout the state for the near future. On Monday, the state Education Department canceled Regents examinations this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additional guidance is to be released today. In addition, the state will not conduct any reviews of school and district performance as required under the Every Student Succeeds Act and granted an exemption to students who can’t fulfill requirements of their academic programs because their school is closed.

According to Bret Apthorpe, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent, the answer to how much time should be spent on school work depends on the child. During a recent Facebook Live chat with parents, Apthorpe answered a question from a parent who wondered the best way to make sure their child was learning enough during the school shutdown.

Apthorpe used the example of teaching fractions to show how the amount of instructional time varies by child. Some children learn fractions in as little as a few minutes while others could take days. The best thing to do, though, is to try to remove the stress from learning at home.

“What I wouldn’t do is I wouldn’t muscle things on the kids,” Apthorpe said. “I’ve said this many times,” Apthorpe said. “Sit down with your son or daughter and have them come up with a detailed routine for the day — what it looks like for me by the hour as the student and you agree with them. Maybe it’s 1 1/2 hours in the morning, 1 1/2 hours in the afternoon or three hours int he morning or three hours in the afternoon. Agree on that. If you agree on that routine it will make your life much easier because you can call each other on it when the routine is not working.”

Devising some sort of routine is just as important for parents who are still working in essential positions during the pandemic closures yet want to make sure their children are learning at an appropriate rate. Some parents have expressed concern that their children can’t participate in some of the district’s online offerings because the parents are at work when the online learning opportunities take place.

“Make it a routine,” Apthorpe said. “Sitting down with your child and lay out the day schedule and include your own work schedule so when you’re home, the time they spend online is time that you’re able to supervise them,” Apthorpe said. “Make a routine with them that’s healthy, keeps them active and make the part of the day they need to be online the time you are at work. I would also tell the teacher that you’re an essential worker, so you ‘re not at home for those Zoom meetings, because I think they can record those. Definitely relay to the teacher you’re inability to be home to supervise. I’m glad you’re supervising them. We all are.”

Dr. Richard Gallagher, an associate professor in the NYU Langone Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, recently gave similar guidance on the NYU Langone website. He suggested setting regular bed times and wake-up time in the morning to help keep children on track, establish a school day educational schedule and time for regular exercise as it is possible.

Gallagher said it is important to differentiate for children the difference between a scheduled school vacation or break and school shutdown created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A free-for-all, loose schedule is nice for snow days or other short breaks, but can lead to boredom and a difficult time getting back into the educational routine if it lasts,” Gallagher said. “Find out how your children’s schools plan to keep students engaged and active, and follow the suggested schedule.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday stated that all schools and non-essential businesses will remain closed through at least April 29. Apthorpe said it is likely that parents will receive an additional packet of school work for elementary school students to work on during the rest of the school year. Apthorpe said he anticipates schools will remain closed for the rest of the school year, but that he is waiting on an official notice from the state.

Additionally, district officials have to figure out the best way to evaluate the work that has been sent home with students.

“While we prepared for this it was relatively short notice to the teaching staff and principals,” Apthorpe said. At that time we didn’t know how long this was going to be. So with serious good intentions I think peopel were expecting we would return to school, so teachers sent home work for a student for three weeks and said I’ll check this over for you. Now that’s likely not goign to occur. Next week when the governor does share more information about our future we’ll have to share with you how we’re goign to be able to evaluate student work. It won’t be coming back to school or into teachers’ homes.”

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