REGION — The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly changed everyone’s lives, especially the lives of our students, educators and school administrators. Many people have had a very difficult …
REGION — The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly changed everyone’s lives, especially the lives of our students, educators and school administrators. Many people have had a very difficult time adjusting, with the biggest adjustments in education involving remote, online learning from home as opposed to in-person learning. Even college students like me have a hard time paying attention at home. Moreover, the mental effects of not leaving the house to go to school, not seeing friends and faculty, cannot be understated, as some people really struggle with this sedentary, stay-at-home lifestyle. I had the great privilege to interview Dr. Ivan Katz, superintendent of the Fallsburg Central School District, and Stephen Walker, superintendent of Sullivan West Central School District, to garner their perspectives on the situation and hear about the actions their districts are taking to alleviate the situation for all students.
Walker shares the frustrations parents have about distance learning, but he wanted to emphasize that COVID-related regulations about how many students can come to school come from the state department in Albany. He “joins the shared goal of educators in wanting kids to be physically in school more.” He pointed to research that has shown that following a three-feet social distancing guideline (as opposed to six feet) can be an appropriate and effective way to let more kids attend school. Dr. Katz also acknowledged the challenges students are facing and noted that “consistent attendance and participation is critical.” He said his district has worked to bring students who are struggling live instruction for up to four days a week.
When asked what the district is doing to help students who may be less committed to learning in this environment than others, both noted that communication and cooperation between teachers, administrators, counselors, social workers and other school staff with students and their families is extremely essential. Katz named several after-school programs and grants for Fallsburg, such as the My Brother’s Keeper and the Empire After-School Grant; these give students additional learning and supplemental counseling after school to address the social-emotional needs of students during the pandemic. Walker also noted similar programs in his district and that his school social workers regularly monitor attendance and call parents for students who do not log on or attend classes “for a couple of days.” Walker said that, if necessary, administrators sometimes “mobilize a visit” to the affected students’ homes as a statement that “we care deeply for the [children] and [their] learning experience[s].” Walker said his district has achieved its goal of higher attendance rates through these active interventions and initiatives.
As for school lunches, both say that thousands of school lunches are still delivered on a regular basis; this service has not diminished and will not diminish while the pandemic continues to affect how schools operate.
Fallsburg is considered economically disadvantaged according to the Distressed Communities Index by the nonprofit Economic Innovation Group. Dr. Katz emphasized that, despite this, his students still have the resources to flourish. He is proud to say that students “are not disadvantaged in terms of the quality of education they receive at Fallsburg.” Not only is this due to the aforementioned social programs but also to increased internet access the district provides through Chromebooks and mobile hotspots for students in need.
When asked to convey a final message to parents and the community at large, Walker said that he sees “a light at the end of the tunnel.” He believes that we have passed through the worst of the COVID-19 crisis and that his district will continue to do its best to the very end. Katz said that, as superintendent, he “could not be prouder of the efforts made by all members of our school community relative to serving our children during these challenging times.”
It remains to be seen what will transpire due to this unprecedented and unpredictable crisis. Public school education should rightfully remain a top priority for the community at large, and both superintendents remain unwavering in their mission to provide a quality education to all its constituents during these challenging times.