When Schools Reopen and Children Return, will Schools be Prepared?

Frank Schargel

The Corona virus has disrupted the lives of children and adults alike around the world. It has had a tremendous impact on the lives of children who may not understand what is happening. Children are being forced to cope with major changes in their everyday lives. The virus has added additional trauma into their lives. They cannot go out and play with their friends; they cannot see any people outside their immediate families and they cannot go to school. The problem is not unique in the United States, according to Phoenix Australia, from the Centre for Post Traumatic Mental Health of the University of Melbourne, “Around two thirds of children will experience a potentially traumatic event by the time they turn 16.”  According to Child Trends, “Rates of poverty, unemployment, parental mental health problems and substance abuse, increased child abuse and neglect, intimate partner violence tends to rise during disasters.” They need someone outside their family who are sensitive and caring adults. That role can be filled by educators.

What are the challenges that the virus has exposed?

  • Remote learning has exposed a technological gap between affluent and underserved and lower-income families and those living in rural areas where high-speed internet isn’t available.
  • The virus laid bare the racial and ethnic divides of our schools.
  • Many schools/districts/states/cities weren’t unprepared or underprepared for this crisis. Lack of preparedness exposed the enormous gap between rich and poor districts, minority and majority, rural and suburban, Native-Americans and White Americans.
  • Approximately 17 percent of U.S. students don’t have a computer at home. Many others share a single computer with their siblings or parents. This widening of the economic gap will ultimately widen the achievement gap.
  • Chicago schools had about 65,000 laptops that were already being used. They are in the process of buying another 37,000 new devices to distribute to approximately 335,000 students who will still be without computers.
  • There are no definitive numbers of those homes without broadband. The FCC puts the number at 2 million, but an independent group called Broadband Now says the number is 42 million.
  • The greatest technology gap is in rural communities, among African American, Latinos and Native Americans on tribal lands.
  • Distance learning is being substituted for face-to-face teaching, but students cannot submit their homework or submit assignments. They may not be able to participate in class discussions.
  • In rural western Alabama, less than 1 percent of Perry County’s roughly 9,100 residents have high-quality Internet at home.
  • A New York City family shelter has no wi-fi and 175 school-age children only 15 of whom have laptops.
  • Many poor families are not tech-savvy and cannot aid their children in the use of technology.
  • Attendance may not be taken and those students with limited access to technology will not be penalized.
  • Students in rural areas find it difficult or impossible to connect to the internet services at speeds high enough to conference or video stream.
  • In urban areas, subscribing the Internet may be too expensive.
  • A number of teachers may not return. New teachers are much needed in classrooms amid a national teacher shortage. The annual teacher shortage-reached about 110,000 in the 2017–2018 school year.
  • Students completing their student teaching in order to be certified and start teaching on their own may not complete it or get credit for it. The opportunity to work with students is obviously over.
  • Provision for on-line education was not made for children with disabilities or those children who are physically disabled.

The virus has provided schools and educators with great opportunities and with major challenges. Now is the time for them to look ahead and start planning for when schools reopen and the need to pay special attention to providing essential support for those in greatest need.

Trauma is a child’s equivalent of PTSD. Unlike most traumatic incidents, this one was broad banded – affecting all children around the world as opposed to only affecting one individual or one group of individuals. The experience may be overwhelming, causing stress and anxiety. It has upended their normal lives. Many children experienced traumatic events in their young lives. Schools need to provide an outlet for children who have experienced stress and trauma where few or none previously existed. Luckily, children have the resilience to bounce back. That ability is based on their relationship with others, especially supportive adults. Schools can and should provide a supportive environment. Children will have all sorts of questions regarding this new added trauma. “Will the virus reappear? Will my mom/dad be thrown out of work again? Will I have enough to eat? Why did my friend have to die? Will I die?” Educators need to be prepared to address these questions honestly.

Education will never be the same. What will schools look like once we get to the other side of the tunnel? Will they be prepared for the next crisis? Will they continue with remote learning? Will schools provide all students with high speed technology? Will this be a one-off or will the virus reappear?

What can educators do?

  • Tell them (especially the very young ones) that you love them, missed them and that you care about them.
  • Let them know that it is OK to be upset.
  • Reassure them that they are safe.
  • Ask them if they have any questions about the virus. Encourage them to talk openly about how they have been feeling since this traumatic incident.
  • Reestablish classroom routines
  • Actively engage them. Put away the worksheets and give them problems to solve.


About the author

Franklin P. Schargel is a former classroom teacher, school counselor and school administrator who successfully designed, developed and helped implement a process that:  dramatically increased parental engagement, increased post-secondary school attendance and significantly lowered his Title 1 high school’s dropout rate. The U.S. Department of Education, Business Week, Fortune Magazine, National Public Radio (NPR) the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and The New York Times have recognized his work. In addition, Schargel served as the Education Division Chair of the American Society for Quality and helped develop the National Quality Award, the Malcolm Baldridge Award for Education.

Schargel is an internationally recognized speaker, trainer and author of thirteen best-selling books. His last published book: “Creating Safe Schools: A Guide for School Leaders, Classroom Teachers, Counselors and Parents” has been published internationally by Francis and Taylor, LLC. In addition, he has written over 100 published articles dealing with school reform.





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