As more and more of the country starts to reopen after being in lockdown mode since mid-March, one big question still looms: What about public K–12 schools? Experts and school leaders have started to weigh in on how best to reopen in the fall, with suggestions such as having students wear masks, attending on staggered days, and moving classes outdoors when possible. In some districts, surveys are being sent to parents asking for their feedback on what worked and what didn’t during the past few months of home learning.
But where in the strategizing and planning is the student voice? As schools re-imagine what learning will look like post-COVID, are students being asked for their input?
According to Gretchen Brion-Meisels, Jessica Fei, and Deepa Vasudevan, authors of At Our Best: Youth-Adult Relationships in Out-of-School Time Settings, some are being asked, many aren’t, but all should be. Usable Knowledge asked the authors how student perspectives can inform school decisions going forward.
No one knows yet what “school” will look like on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, but some have predicted we won’t go back to business as usual. Do you agree?
While we don’t have specific predictions about what schools will look like this fall, we certainly have hopes for what this disruption to “business as usual” can help us confront and transform in our education system. With COVID-19 exacerbating existing inequities in our country, and with the heightened visibility of state-sanctioned anti-black violence in this moment, it is more important than ever for us not to return to business as usual and to instead take a definitive stand against the injustices of the status quo. This is a moment for us to invest fully in remaking schools as spaces for community, healing, and liberation.
Are students currently being asked for their input as we move forward?
We know many teachers and youth workers are asking for feedback and input from their students about what is and isn’t working with remote learning. In these spaces, educators are taking advantage of the relative, and new, freedom that they have to expand definitions of teaching and learning, and to creatively build relationships and community through both tech platforms and distanced activities. These teachers, counselors, and principals are pausing and listening, using this moment of unknown to begin to co-construct a better way forward with their students.
Some haven’t reached out yet. Why do you think that is?
There are many educators who are so busy trying to meet their students’ and families’ basic needs, as well as holding space to process the recent visibility of police violence across the nation, that they have not yet had the time or space to seek input about learning and the structure of school. We know educators who are delivering food and supplies, connecting with students experiencing depression and anxiety, providing social and financial support for overwhelmed parents, joining youth-led protests and the Movement for Black Lives, all while caring for their own extended families and communities. Fundamental survival needs can take up so much time that there is no space for more reflective thinking.
Perhaps of greatest concern to us are the schools that remain solely focused on academic achievement and traditional forms of attendance at this time, failing to care for the physical, emotional or psychological needs of their students and teachers, and also missing this unique opportunity to look inward and co-construct with their youth.
Should all students be asked to weigh in, even younger students?
We certainly think that students and their families should be asked for their input, at all ages. One thing we worry about is that teachers probably already receive quite a bit of input from their students and families, but that the feedback they are receiving isn’t prioritized by school and district leadership who may be more preoccupied by traditional measurements of academic success.