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How to help vulnerable students who are struggling with remote learning

First grade teacher Megan Garner-Jones teaches students participating remotely and in person during the coronavirus outbreak at School 16, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Yonkers, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

If your child has special needs or is really struggling with remote learning right now, is there help available? How are schools performing for the children who are the most vulnerable? Arik Korman is the communications director for the nonprofit advocacy group League of Education Voters, which is working to improve education for public school students.

“First of all, let me say that I’m a parent of a student who needs special education services, so I see it firsthand with my sixth grader, and there’s specific groups that aren’t doing as well as other students, like students who receive special education services, students who are learning English, students who are in foster care, students living in poverty, and students who are experiencing homelessness,” Korman told KIRO Radio’s Gee & Ursula Show.

“And some of these issues involve access to technology, knowing how to get to the curriculum once it is online, and then language issues, of course,” he added. “And then having to deal with issues like emotional regulation and just understanding, like what should I do first? They call that ‘executive function,’ knowing how to prioritize and get assignments done. So all of these things are difficult for certain student groups. In fact, it’s quite a large percentage, really.”

The absence of a teacher working directly in-person with a student makes it difficult for understanding, learning, and retention, Korman says.

“This is happening because if you’re looking at remote learning, you can’t have somebody physically with a student,” he said. “For example, my son, he’s really smart, but he doesn’t track conversations very well sometimes, especially in a remote situation. So either I have to sit with him, or my wife has to sit with him. But if there’s nobody there physically sitting with him, he’ll miss 90% of what the teachers are saying.”

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“So that’s just one example of why it’s important for students to get help, although that’s really difficult because, again, we’re in the middle of a pandemic,” Korman added. “It’s not safe to have students in the building right now.”

Are there options for parents who are going through the same thing?

“Really, what we need is a way to give parents tutoring, for example, if there’s a way to do that,” he said. “And a lot of this will have to be done after we can get students back into buildings. Because, again, for students like my son, who need somebody physically with them, whatever you do online is really hard.”

“One thing we can do now, though, is give parents resources on how to help their kids manage what they’re feeling,” he added. “We call that social emotional learning because this is a tough time for kids, and their parents.”

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Before the pandemic and remote learning, Korman explains that kids would go to school and have the stress of learning the curriculum and “all the things that cause a lot of stress at school,” but then home would be their safe haven at the end of the day.

“But now home is where they’re trying to deal with a very tough situation in school and that’s not a haven for them anymore,” he said. “So that’s why the mental health supports, and knowing how to kind of navigate this time, is super important. Any resources we can give would be helpful for that, and then helping kids prioritize.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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