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  • Writer's pictureLiz Gardner

Re-imagining Education in the Covid Era

Updated: Jul 30, 2020

As schools all over the country prepare for the back to school season, each must prioritize safety concerns while wrestling with enormous pressures coming from all quarters. It seems an almost impossible task. Many different models have been designed to attempt to meet the needs of students, parents, and teachers — as well as the often conflicting guidelines from the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a top-down government push to get kids back to the classroom no matter what. I don’t know about you, but I’m wondering, worrying how it will all work. Coronavirus cases are spiking throughout the country — 16 plus million globally, 4.5 million in the U.S. alone, and counting — and with the return to the classroom imminent for millions of students, one can only imagine that those cases might morph quickly into that ominous hockey stick graph of exponential growth once again. Ack.

I know I’m not the only one feeling unsure and anxious about how things will unfold, if our collective kids — not to mention teachers — will be alright. I have a son entering his senior year in college. His classes include some on-line, some hybrid, and some in-person. He's already lost what was supposed to have been an amazing study abroad in Vienna this past semester, as well as a promising summer internship. Now he's struggling to find work to help him pay for his living expenses in DC — and gain traction so he can enable an easier transition into the workforce after graduation. College students and young people everywhere are struggling to figure it out, and are at high risk for being completely derailed by this ongoing pandemic. There are critical times in a child’s growth and development, windows of opportunity that may be completely missed if we don’t get it together. As schools and libraries and other essential community centers sit idle, I have been reminded of my own community work over the course of many years to create early literacy and cultural programs at our local library for many area families. Without our usual gathering spaces and regular programming, how will young families especially find connection, community, support? Right next door, at the Giving Tree Preschool, where both of my sons went, they've switched to an all-outdoor summer program, which suits well their approach to nature- and play-based education, and allows them to minimize exposure while maximizing enrollment. It’s been wonderful to hear those little voices sing-songing through the trees — but how long will they be able to keep it up? The private boarding & day schools in the area are actively re-designing several different models of academics, schedules, protocols, and residential life to respond to an impending influx of students from all corners of the world. Many of my students are making plans to return amid many unknowns, some coming back two weeks early to quarantine on campus, others wondering how day student life will be impacted. Public schools, for their part, are trying to figure out the best way to open safely, but lack the money, flexibility, and freedom that private schools have to truly be creative in their re-imagining.

What's even possible? And how will we know? The ongoing uncertainty in this new Covid Era makes it hard to count on anything. And for all of us, everything — every. last. thing. — will be so very different that we will be spending a large part of our time and energy just trying to get used to a new normal.

Students and parents, then, are being forced to make difficult decisions about their children’s education — and welfare. And many don’t have the resources to even consider options, or re-imagine and create a different kind of education for their children. This pandemic continues to illuminate the widening divide between families and communities with the resources to create possibility for themselves, and those that simply do not have access. This is the great heartbreak for me.

Many parents are in a position to think seriously about opting out entirely, and homeschooling their children instead, joining a microschool or learning pod, or hooking into an already existing well-organized group of homeschooling families in their area. Some are just desperate, as I am, to figure out a better way to make their child's next year of school better than this past year — and keep them safe.

Are you wondering what might work best for your kids, your family? Worried about how to make either an online, hybrid, or homeschooling option work for you, given the demands of your own work and the need to create dynamic home learning spaces and rhythms that can work for everyone — and that you’ve never done this before? Eager to help your kids make the most of their learning experience, whatever the configuration?

Rather than trying to translate the usual brick-and-mortar experience into the online format, or recreate the “school” experience at home, what if instead you could re-imagine all of it, and create something entirely different and new, that allowed your kids to cultivate their creativity and imagination, their interests and passions — and thrive?

I'd like to help.

There is not one educational model that works for every student, every family, no one size fits all solution. But understanding first what your child needs within the larger context of family circumstances and community resources is a good first step to figuring out what might work best.

I am eager to share and put to good use my many years of experience homeschooling my own two kids — four and a half years apart — while also working on my writing, organizing community programs, and going through breast cancer treatment. My time homeschooling my boys — and being able to learn alongside them — were some of the best years of my life. I also worked several years for Oak Meadow, one of the oldest and most respected distance learning schools and homeschooling curriculum providers around. I listened to and counseled parents and students, directed Oak Meadow’s community development initiatives, and, as social media specialist, gathered and shared resources, tips, and inspiration, wrote articles on their blog to help guide and support parents and students alike, and helped the faculty create their own virtual communities with students all over the world. The interconnectivity and sense of community is imperative these days — as our worlds shrink, it’s so important to help our kids create a more expansive presence in their own lives, to feel as if they belong to something bigger.

What do you need?

I offer free 15-minute phone consultations to help get you started, as well as weekly sessions to help parents more easily make decisions, and prepare for and navigate the ongoing shifts in their children's education experience, whatever they choose to do.

As a distance/learning specialist and academic coach, I also offer personalized support, resources, and tips to help students and families enrich, texturize, and enliven whatever educational model they're working in. For students of any age, but most particularly high schoolers looking ahead at the college journey, I offer personalized academic and specialized College Ready coaching, consulting, and support through all aspects of the application process.

I am also hard at work at repackaging my programs so that more students can more easily access and benefit from the FlipSwitch manifesto, workbook, and all its companion materials at a low cost. It’s important to me to get this right: we all need to figure out ways in our respective work and communities to better bridge the gap between students who can access resources and create possibility in their lives, and those who cannot. As a person of privilege, I recognize that it is also my responsibility to help others create possibility in their lives as I do in mine — and to empower my students to do the same. I will continue to offer my coaching services to students in need at a reduced or pro bono cost whenever possible.

As we make decisions around what will be best for our children and families, it is critical that we all find ways to invigorate and balance our children’s day to day rhythms and academic experience — whatever our choices or options educationally — with experiences that allow them to stay more fully engaged and present in their own lives.

Given the increase in time spent not in the here and now but in a virtual, online, technology-driven world — a world often marked by distance, loss, and absence — it’s important to try to restore the balance, and create some of the missing in-person connective tissue that is as much a part of our shared human experience as it is an element of the very best kinds of education. As E.O. Wilson said, “You teach me, I forget. You show me, I remember. You involve me, I understand.”

We need to work together to ensure that students of all ages are able to take part in more nature-based, interactive, unplugged, experiential, hands-on, self-directed, creative projects, collaborations, and community-based initiatives which constitutes the real meat and magic of a child’s education — and which reinforces a child’s sense of place and sense of self, interconnectedness within the community, and authentic engagement with what matters most to them. I’ll be sharing resources, tips, and inspiration to help do just that, on my FlipSwitch Coaching website, blog, Instagram and Facebook pages. Children need to feel empowered to engage in the ongoing process of mapping and re-mapping their world, starting in the here and now — in rhythm with themselves — so that they may explore their outer edges, learn to take healthy risks, and make decisions and gain traction based on a strong sense of who they are and what matters most.

What does the world need now? The future is here. It is time to re-imagine an education for our children that provides the kind of opportunities and experiences that empowers them to build strong tool kits of relevant skills, daily practices, rhythms, and rituals, growth-mindsets, and an intrepid infrastructure of self-awareness and resources to better navigate our increasingly uncertain, fast-changing world — a living, breathing education that can be responsive, flexible, and customized according to each child’s needs, and to what’s going on in the world, the home, and the community.

Being able to build and then tap into solid, enduring foundations of a more intrinsic reward system, resilience, and clarity of heart through everyday rhythms that promote authentic engagement with the world outside and in — this is what will serve them well as they head into deeper, more complex uncertainty and unrest, and should remain at the center of a child’s education.

"Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” ~ John Dewey

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