Our world turned upside down when COVID-19 shut the state down 8 months ago. Like every other person, I felt overwhelmed, confused and scared. I was fortunate to not be personally affected by the disease itself, but that is not the case for some friends and family. As we saw the Durham Public School (DPS) district scramble to purchase laptops and hot spots so that the district could be 1:1 for students to devices, Parents of African American Children also advocated for academic learning over the summer and waiting until every child had a device before instruction began. Parents, students and teachers alike navigated distribution of devices, online platforms, and curriculum delivery all virtually at the start of the year with many ups and downs.

While COVID-19 conditions were less than 4% in Durham, NC, the school board was presented with the option from the district to remain in plan C, virtual learning, until January. With scientific data supporting safety measures and a plan to return safely, some families in dire straits to continue virtual learning, exceptional children having a range of challenges with online learning and steadily losing students from DPS, the board approved the plan to remain in Plan C, virtual learning for another 9-weeks with a vote of 6 to 1.

I was that lone vote to urge the district administration to present a plan that would give parents choice while taking every step needed to ensure teachers and staff psychological security and mitigation plans for safety. Clearly, I understand that the pandemic is looming and may get worse. I also understand that our children with special needs and most vulnerable students are suffering. Our teachers understand also. We have to be able to hold both truths at the same time. So, while the recent plans have been revealed for a hybrid of in-person instruction and virtual instruction, my school board email is flooded with varying opinions, thoughts, feedback and positions. I have been called into meetings with several community members and organizations to hear their perspectives. As important as this is, we also have the reality of the here and now. As so many parents are seeing their children hit a “virtual fatigue”, this article is meant to support parents to the holidays.

Students are on their laptops off and on from 7:30am to 1:30pm, and sometimes longer. They have gotten into a routine, they have tested limits and they know what is expected from them. A lot of parents are sharing that their kids are less focused, more complaining and ready for something different. Parents have shared feelings more divided in their time, unsure about if their child is receiving a quality education and helpless without knowing when the end will be to this type of instruction. As we are resilient people and our children have shown incredible resilience, it is to be expected that a sense of fatigue would come over the children, just as when they are in person and getting ready for the winter break. Here are some tips below to consider to reboot in virtual learning:

  1. Set a designated work space. As we frantically created some creative spaces with mobile dinner tables, poster boards and ideas to make it their own, something is different. For you and your child, there was a newness to that space. Consider what you can bring to the space to create a refresh. Maybe moving a picture, adding some artwork or repositioning the laptop. You may even consider allowing your child to work in a new space like a seat change when they were in school.
  2. Set a routine. As the school schedule is set, you will have to consider what flexibility you have during the breaks or on Wellness Wednesdays to reconnect with your child and bring some newness to the schedule. It is also sometimes helpful to have a calendar countdown until the holiday break. It is important for everyone to have something to look forward to and having a visual countdown can help.
  3. Review expectations and allow for grace, self-efficacy and independence. When your child has not turned in assignments which is a broken expectation, take a breath and offer grace. Try to understand what your child’s need is, the challenge and the obstacle. Work together to find a solution. Most schools are allowing for work to be turned in even if it is late. Allowing your child to set a schedule of when the work will be complete with routine check ins if needed then you can help them get back on track. Virtual schooling is new and not easy for most students. We have put a lot on our children’s shoulders and they need help getting organized and staying focused. So, before you yell, (if you’re a yeller) try an approach that may help your kid get back on the right track without shutting down.
  4. Build a stronger connection to the teacher. Every teacher has office hours. It may sound daunting or vague, but it is a time to get to know a teacher, and to allow the teacher to know the student. It is a time to be clear of their expectations. It is a time to get extra support. Lean into the office hours.
  5. Smile more. Play more. Love more. These are challenging times. Self-care is extremely important. Here is an article shared related to self-care. As instructed on a plane and relatable to self care – don’t forget to put your mask on first before you help others put their mask on. Be well.

As this holiday season may look different, here is a link to another article to consider how to support your child through the holiday season during COVID.

Jovonia Lewis, MS, EdS, LCMHC
EPiC Executive Director