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Family Voices in School Reopenings

Family Voices in School Reopenings

Date of the Event: August 06, 2020 | Bianca Scott, Dr. Seth Shaffer, and Mariela Puentes
mom and daughter writing Show Notes:

In this webinar we were joined by Bianca Scott, UPLAN Parent Leader. United Parent Leaders Action Network (UPLAN) is a national network of families who come together to inform educational policies and programs across the United States. Bianca discussed her advocacy journey, work with UPLAN, and her transition from working with a school district in Washington state to one in Florida. She provided listeners with strategies on how to best advocate for their priorities in school reopening considerations and decide what is best for their children. This webinar also feature the Question Corner with child psychologist, Dr. Seth Shaffer, and education expert, Mariela Puentes. They answered questions regarding  families’ educational and social emotional needs.

Nikevia Thomas:

Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Nikevia Thomas and I am the moderator for The Family Table. Please pull up a chair as we learn how families can advocate for their needs and decide what to do and what’s best for their children. We’re pleased to be joined today by Bianca Scott, UPLAN parent leader. UPLAN Parent Leaders Action Network is a national network of families. Who come together to inform educational policies and programs across the United States. B...

Nikevia Thomas:

Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Nikevia Thomas and I am the moderator for The Family Table. Please pull up a chair as we learn how families can advocate for their needs and decide what to do and what’s best for their children. We’re pleased to be joined today by Bianca Scott, UPLAN parent leader. UPLAN Parent Leaders Action Network is a national network of families. Who come together to inform educational policies and programs across the United States. Bianca will discuss her advocacy journey, work with UPLAN, and her transition from working with a school district in Washington State to one in Florida. She will provide listeners with strategies on how to best advocate for their priorities and school reopening considerations and decide what is best for their children. Mariela.

Mariela Puentes:

Thank you, Nikevia and welcome everyone. We’re glad that you joined us for today’s webinar. The Family Table is a collaboration between CAFE, the Collaborative Action for Family Engagement Center, the Maryland State Department of Education, and the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Today, we are continuing on to the third webinar of a three-part webinar series focused on school reopenings. We hope that these webinars will help families navigate the current climate, gain information, tools, and strategies to decide what is best for them and their children. That families will work to make their voices heard and build coalitions with school teams to ensure successful school reopening plans for all children. Yeah. So what comes next? So we want to hear from you, we want to hear your thoughts. We’d like for you to please fill out the short survey to assist us with planning future family table webinars.

Mariela Puentes:

After this webinar, we’re going to be taking a short break. We’ll be back soon with content that is best suited to your needs. If you take this survey that’ll help us better plans content that is relevant to what you need and would like to hear from. Towards the end of this webinar, we’re going to be sharing with you some exciting events we have coming up. One of those is next week, we’re going to be co-hosting the Maryland Family Engagement Summit with MSDE, the Maryland State Department of Education, and the Maryland Family Engagement Coalition. So stay tuned for more details about that event later today.

Nikevia Thomas:

So we’ll go over The Family Table agenda. First, we’ll have our welcome and introductions. Then we’ll speak with Bianca Scott and she will go over the family voices in school reopenings. Then our question corner with child psychologist Dr. Seth Shaffer and Mariela Puentes. Then we’ll wrap up with surveys and upcoming webinars. So a couple of housekeeping things logistically. When we are having this webinar, we ask that you use the Q&A section to ask your questions. That is located at the bottom of your screen, you should see a section that says Q&A, please type your questions in there. We…

Mariela Puentes:

I think Nikevia’s technology froze for a second. So please use the Q&A section to ask any questions that’s located as she said at the bottom of your screen. Then any chat or Facebook comment or comments, please add them either to the chat function or the Facebook comments section. So while Nikevia gets her technology back in order, I wanted to tell you a little bit about MAEC. We’re an educational nonprofit in Bethesda, Maryland. We were founded in 1991, dedicated to increasing access to high-quality education for culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse learners. Our vision is a day when all students have equitable opportunities to learn and achieve at high levels. MAEC’s mission is to promote excellence and equity in education to achieve social justice. So a little bit about CAFE. I know you’ve heard that acronym thrown out a little bit. So CAFE, the Collaborative Action for Family Engagement Center is a project of MAEC. We apply an equity lens to family engagement by building relationships among schools, parents, and community organizations. To improve the development and academic achievement of all students. We also serve as a statewide Family Engagement Center for Maryland and Pennsylvania and we are funded through a Federal Department of Education grant for statewide family engagement centers.

Mariela Puentes:

Today we are so lucky and so pleased to be joined by Bianca Scott, UPLAN parent leader. So while Nikevia gets back on hopefully and we figure out this technology piece, I’d like to start off with Bianca.

Bianca Scott:

Hello, everybody. Hi, I was moving in thought I had a little more time but I am moving and with you. So my name is Bianca Scott, I am a parent leader, wife, mother, employee. Just kind of all the things that go with those different identities, wearing different hats at different times. I started as a parent. I had started parents, specifically and I have three children, ages 18 yesterday, 16, and 14. When we moved to Washington State, my son, my 18-year-old son Austin had a G-tube. He just had a huge surgery, had a G-tube and when I got to Washington, I wound up meeting with the special needs nurse. Who told that Head Start was actually a really great program and they would probably be one of the childcare providers in town that would be capable of providing for my son’s needs.

Bianca Scott:

So I went to Head Start, met with them, basically interviewed them to make sure that I felt comfortable. My husband and I felt comfortable with the level of care that Austin would receive because he was medically fragile and we were concerned. Found that Head Start was an amazing program. Head Start was capable of being able to meet not just his G-tube needs, which were the fact that he was going to be eating by mouth and by G-tube but also to meet his speech therapy needs. So from there, being involved in the program, had a family home visitor who basically said to me, “You should maybe give our parent council and our policy council a try.”

Bianca Scott:

So I became a policy council parent. If you’re not familiar with Head Start, policy council is basically one of the three entities on what we call a three-legged stool, which is of governance. So parents, staff, and administration or the board, I’m sorry. Parents, the board, and administration of the program. So there is a time limit on you can only serve or at the time you can only serve for up to three years on policy council and I joined policy council. While I was a part of policy council, which just want to say was pretty awesome experience. I had not had a child that went through K-12 yet. But I will say that one thing that early education for children does really well. Head Start, particularly, is involve parents and want to really know what is going on with the parents, what’s happening in the classroom. Everyone cannot always be, obviously all administrators, all the board members in the classroom to see what’s happening. Parent involvement is really, really major in the early learning world.

Bianca Scott:

So I was policy council representative who became eventually the policy council chair. During that program, I was introduced in Washington State, the State Association of Head Start, and ECAP. ECAP is the state-funded, preschool early learning model of Head Start, has an association. So the state association was playing with the idea or thinking of the idea of having Parent Ambassadors.

Bianca Scott:

The Parent Ambassador program was born in 2009. It is a program that teaches parents high-quality advocacy skills, how to advocate for their children, how to advocate for other children on the local state and federal landscapes. Helps parents develop goals. Head Start also helps parents develop goals but the Parent Ambassador is a year-long program. So developing goals, meeting goals, making sure that you’re on track and understanding that life happens in the process. So when I became a Parent Ambassador, that was an amazing year of my life, one of the best programs that I’ve ever been a part of. But it also introduced me to other opportunities to advocate for children and families.

Bianca Scott:

So I was then on the Department of Early Learning State Parent Advisory Group. Parent Advisory Group is what it was called, where we informed the governor of things that were happening in our local community, things that were happening around early learning. What tends to happen, which I think everybody can probably agree with, is when you are on the ground so to speak or you are in it every day. The people who are making decisions locally, statewide or federally, have no idea what’s actually happening in the classrooms, in your life. What’s happening with children and families and how to best actually support them. They make policies and procedures and don’t always understand how those are going to impact children and families. So we were one branch of informing the governor of how things were happening in the State of Washington.

Bianca Scott:

Through my connection with the parent… Wait, Nikevia are you back yet?

Nikevia Thomas:

Yes, I’m back.

Bianca Scott:

Okay, I was just… I don’t know if there was a slide or I can’t see the slide, so I don’t know what-

Nikevia Thomas:

There is I will queue your slide up.

Bianca Scott:

Thank you. I’m like there was one somewhere, just not sure where I am right now. Sorry you guys, I just want to make sure that I don’t lose track of where I am. Yeah, okay. So through the Parent Ambassador program, there was at some point an opportunity way back in… It must have been 2013, I want to say it was. Maybe even somewhere between 2012 and 2014. There was a group of funders who were pulled together by a group of advocates, a lot of different advocacy groups. There are actually seven at the time from across the nation, who had done and been very successful in local state and federal legislative policies. So these seven groups were invited to meet with this group of funders to basically, to talk to parents. See what could actually happen if parents were included at eventually every single table where decisions are made about children, and families. Where these decisions are normally made without parents to speak about what happens for children and families.

Bianca Scott:

So WASA, which is what the Parent Ambassador program, WASA Parent Ambassadors was one of those groups and I was one of the parents that went to help represent that group. That is actually how UPLAN was born. Nikevia will you change the slide, please? Thank you.

Bianca Scott:

So UPLAN is the United Parent Leaders Action Network. I basically just told you how it was started. But again, there were seven different groups who did work locally, statewide, and nationally around children and families. We were invited to talk to a group of funders and see if we could get funding to start the actual network of nationwide parents who are doing this work and organizations who are doing the work. To make sure that children and families, advocacy work, children and families are represented at tables where decisions are being made about children and families. We were successful, the seven of us were successful in that process, which is why UPLAN was actually born. Anyone, as an individual, and organization can be a part of UPLAN if you align with our goals. So as a parent, as an individual, you don’t even have to be a parent. You can be a person who cares about children and families, a person who works in systems that affect children and families. You can be a parent, you don’t have to be any specific type of parent. We welcome pretty much any and everyone who agrees that children and families are supposed to be included in the work that affect children and families.

Bianca Scott:

Hang on a second, I want to make sure I pull them up and look at them so that I’m not misrepresenting them. Our goals, I will start by just saying, again, the goal is to make sure that children and families or parents and families voices are included in all decisions. We have been working strategically for the last year around very specific topics. At the moment, I’m going to ask, I’m going to try to remember what they are off the top of my head. Immigration reform, early learning, and there’s one that I’m forgetting because there were three and they’re all very important. Let’s see if I can find it, I’m sorry. I probably can’t at the moment. But if you go to the webpage that I actually included the link on the slide, it will… Obviously, it’s our national webpage, so it will give you that information. I included the link for individuals but there is an organization link. There’s an application process so that you can join UPLAN.

Bianca Scott:

But again, it is for anyone who is dedicated to advancing the work of children and families and making sure that children and families voices are not left out of a conversation that primarily impact us. Whether you are a grandparent, a foster parent, a parent who is parenting a child who has a different parent that’s incarcerated. Whether you are a teacher, if you are a social worker, whoever you are and you are dedicated to advancing that work. We would love to have you as a part of this organization. We are growing, we are growing, we are growing, and we are doing the work. We worked a whole lot on the census in the past year and a half, working on making sure that people understood how the census was going to work. Helping inform our national leaders about why we did not want the citizenship question on the census application, why it doesn’t matter. If you are here, you are a citizen. You may be undocumented but you are a person, you are a human, we believe that you matter, we believe that you count.

Bianca Scott:

So we worked really hard and if you weren’t aware, that decision, actually or that information went up and there was a Supreme Court hearing on it. Where it was upheld that citizenship would not be a question that was going to impact anything or even be placed on the census. The leadership of this country right now is trying to work around that and negate that. But we worked really hard and the work that we put in paid off.

Bianca Scott:

So those are some of our goals and visions. If you have questions about UPLAN, feel free to ask me or you can reach out and contact via the webpage. Then Nikevia, do I have one more slide? Sorry, thank you. So the skills that I received going through the Parent Ambassador program were universal. It was totally focused on early learning at the time because it was a Head Start and ECAP program. That meant that we were working specifically to advance the agenda and funding for these programs. Which serve low-income children, children with unique or special learning needs, and children with disabilities. Families who are in need basically, the most at-risk children and families in the country is who we served. So our work again specifically was focused at that point on early learning programs.

Bianca Scott:

However, the skills that we learned were completely transferable. Anything you want to advocate for. If you want marijuana to be legal in your state, the skills were transferable. If you want race to be taken off of an application process, that was something that we could advocate for. So we use those skills at the time to advocate for early learning but that was not all that they were for. So I moved recently, well, a year ago now, from Washington State, which is a super progressive state or it’s seen as a super aggressive state. As someone who lived there and I lived in a part of the state that is very red. My city specifically was known because we have a university and that’s pretty much all that’s there. So we were a blue dot on the red part of the state that’s in a blue state. The governor’s progressive, the largest city in the state, Seattle basically carries the state a lot in elections. So people really get frustrated about that because the central to eastern part of Washington is not as progressive. Is actually very conservative compared to the west part of the state, which is Seattle and Tacoma, where they carry the state legislatively, typically.

Bianca Scott:

So I moved to Florida, which is a red state and has a Republican governor and is way more conservative here in the south. That is hard for me specifically because I don’t necessarily always agree politically with the things that the conservative agenda produces. But I am here and I am working to make changes in the state that I see necessary. My school district is horrible or at least the school is really not that great. I don’t really have a lot of choice in moving my children at this point. One, we just move, I don’t want to be the parent that continues to continue to move them.

Bianca Scott:

I applied to put them in a different school. The school itself is just too big. There are about 3800 kids at the high school and that’s just too many for them to manage at this point. They’re building another one but that would mean another change and all kinds of things. So anyway, in that process, I’m making changes that I can in the timeframe and in the process that I possibly can. So teachers know who I am, teachers know that I am the parent of these three children or my son graduated this year. So now I’m the parent of these two children who are attending your school. They know that if I have a problem, I will contact the school district. These are things that you can do and you may feel like you’re being a burden or you may feel like it’s not worth it but please know that your voice matters. Your voice matters. You are the best person to advocate for your children and your family. That is what we need you to do. So I know that my voice matters no matter where I am, I didn’t always feel that way. But through the programs that I was a part of, I got there.

Bianca Scott:

I’m connecting to parents here who are also having some similar struggles with the school and school district that we are seeing. So we are basically building that parent power. When you start out, you may be one voice. But you will continue, you will find other people who have things in common. Who maybe have a different issue than you have but you’re still willing to support them and they’re still willing to support you. So you’re building parent power together and you will collectively make a lot more noise. You’re doing what’s best for your children. For me, it was about my children but it became, obviously about way more than my children. My children have clearly outgrown Head Start and I am still advocating. Excuse me, for Head Start and ECAP. I am still advocating for children in the elementary school system despite me not having children in elementary school system. It’s not just about my children, it’s about all of our children.

Bianca Scott:

So with that, I am happy to take questions. Nikevia I think you’re in charge of that, so I am open.

Nikevia Thomas:

Yes, I am in charge of that. Thank you so much for sharing your success as we handle our technical issues. So Bianca, you-

Bianca Scott:

You are so welcome.

Nikevia Thomas:

Yes. So what is one lesson you learned regarding advocacy that resonates with you still to this day?

Bianca Scott:

That literally, your story individually actually matters. I think that sometimes we give our legislators a bad rap and sometimes they deserve it. But in other times, we don’t give enough credit to the impact that your story will actually have on your legislator. When legislators are making decisions or when you’re talking to people who are decision-makers, they’re making decisions based typically on money. Money or maybe political power or political affiliation. But when you go and talk to someone and you tell them this is how this is impacting my family, this is what your decision will do to me and other people. It actually carries a different weight than it does when they’re just looking at numbers. To figure out where we can make cuts or where I can boost money over here because they don’t need it over there. So the power of your individual story is the thing that has stuck with me this entire time.

Nikevia Thomas:

That’s wonderful. So every voice matters is what I’m hearing.

Bianca Scott:

Yes, and everyone has a voice that needs to be used.

Nikevia Thomas:

Yes. So how can a parent that’s never done advocacy get started? What would you say they should do?

Bianca Scott:

So I would say one, join our network because UPLAN will connect you. One of the things about the network is that we’re not an organization, we’re not a group. We are a network of people who have continuously done this. Each of us learn from each other and we find commonality. So back in 2009, I worked on a bill in Washington State that was for continuity of childcare. We have a Childcare Assistance Program for families who can’t afford to pay full-blown childcare fees, which is pretty much everybody I know no matter what kind of job you have because childcare is so expensive. But we were working this from the aspect of children needs stability, regardless of what’s happening in the parents lives. So if I lose my job, that doesn’t mean my child should lose their childcare spot. We actually impacted federal legislation before we actually impacted anything else. Best practices became that 12 months of childcare should be standard, no matter what actually happens in the parents lives, there should be care.

Bianca Scott:

So then that got passed in Washington State in 2011, I want to say it was or 2012. Then the State of California started to work on a bill that was similar. We have relationships with people in the State of California, we worked with the State of California to try to help them inform how to go about it and the mistakes that we made learning how to do it. They were able to also get a bill passed in California.

Bianca Scott:

If you are a part of the UPLAN network. Honestly, at this point, you have my contact info or you can have my contact information. Feel free to reach out and I would gladly help you with how you can start on your advocacy journey. Basically, you’re going to use your voice, you’re going to tell your story. I would help you try to figure out how you’re going to tell your story effectively. You never want to walk into a legislator’s office and say like, “Hi, I’m The mom of eight, they’ve got four different parents, units, and I live in low-income housing.” We don’t want to do that. That’s not going to probably help you in most cases, even if that is your truth. However, we can craft that message in a way that doesn’t leave people with stereotypes and thinking about families in certain ways. Still get the message across that make them think about you when they’re making that vote or take or voting on a bill that comes before them that impacts children and families.

Nikevia Thomas:

That’s great. So I have a question. Do you have a lot of PTAs or PTOs in the organization in UPLAN?

Bianca Scott:

I honestly do not know the answer to that question. I could find out for you and get back to you. I would say that I think we have a few but I don’t think we have a lot. Sometimes PTAs and PTA struggle. I think most people would or some people would say that they didn’t feel necessarily very welcome in a PTA or PTO group because it’s a fundraising group. If I don’t have the right fundraiser or I don’t decide that I’m going to do what you want me to do, then you’re not as welcoming to me. So I left or I gave up. So we’ve had that experience or I can say I’ve had that experience. But I think as long as again, the group is working towards advancing children and families, advancing their voice at tables. Are not just brushing out people, it’s not a click, then they are more than welcome to be a part of UPLAN.

Nikevia Thomas:

Okay. So then how would you say you would build parent voices and cultivate social capital and connections and support so that they can organize their needs?

Bianca Scott:

So I would say honestly, just start by having conversations with your friends and family, people who are already in your circle. You are probably experiencing, you may already be. You may know that you are already experiencing some of the same things and are frustrated. But then if you’re only venting about them to each other and not taking that anywhere, then that’s all you’re doing. So if you are having conversations or not having those conversations, start having them from a different perspective. Not just that teacher or that funding decision really irritated me but how can we effectively change that? How can we make sure that this doesn’t maybe happen again? It’s too late for us to do anything about it right now but we can prevent them from renewing this funding decision or any of those things. Start actually having conversations and getting like-minded people together. Then you can start a letter-writing campaign or then you can plan a trip to your capital. Everybody doesn’t always go to the capital because people live in various places in our state. It’s not convenient for everybody to make that eight-hour journey or for some people, it might be 15 minutes but it may not be super accessible.

Bianca Scott:

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t reach out to your legislator, doesn’t mean you can’t reach out to your school board member. Doesn’t mean that you can’t reach out to your county commissioner and share your story with them. That is what is going to impact them. Don’t get discouraged because the first time or even the 10th time that you go and have this conversation, that it seems like you’re hitting a wall. That is very common for us as parents, us as parent advocates. There are some people whose mind you’re never going to change. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t still share your story. Now, I’m not going to tell you to keep running into a stop sign. But I will tell you to share it enough that you know that they got the impact. I had a legislator who literally would refuse, he couldn’t refuse to meet with me as a constituent but he would try, so he would avoid me.

Bianca Scott:

So I was at the Capitol one day and I called his office and said, “I’m here, I’d like to meet with him.” They were like, “Well, he’s in a meeting.” So I basically stalked him that day. At one point, his secretary told me to come upstairs, I went up. She told me to come up, she basically sent him down and I waited downstairs rather than going up. Then he got off the elevator. I was like, “Hello, Bill, how are you?” He was like, “Hi, Bianca.” So we had a conversation. I know that I impacted him and actually, I wound up changing him slightly. That was worth it to me.

Bianca Scott:

However, we have other legislators who we know, we’re not… I’m not going to go knock on the President’s door and try to have a conversation because I know that most of what I’m saying he is going to reject. However, there are people around him, people in Congress, other people, the Department of Education. Who I can have conversations with that it will make an impact on and who it may change. So I know that you have that same capability.

Nikevia Thomas:

It sounds great. It sounds like it comes down to being strategic and how you use your voice.

Bianca Scott:

Yes, we will tell you to know your audience. But we would also say you need to use your voice even if your audience does not want to hear you.

Nikevia Thomas:

Yeah, very well. So we’re looking at schools reopening and it has brought to the surface many economic disadvantages.

Bianca Scott:

Yes.

Nikevia Thomas:

Brought to the surface that many families are economically disadvantaged. So how can schools reopening, how can their plans address these needs?

Bianca Scott:

So this is one where you don’t have a whole lot of time. People are making decisions and you may not be included in that voice. I will tell you I have very strong opinions about the fact that we are playing with the marginalized population’s lives at the moment. Parents who are working and don’t have as many choices as parents who are economically situated better, I feel like it’s very real. I also know that there are people who are making choices and I’m respecting any and everyone’s choice. So I would say that you can contact your school board, your school district, your superintendent, your ombudsman. Say how many parents are included in the decisions that are being made? How many parents are represented in the conversation so that the parent voice can be heard? One thing I will tell you is that, obviously, one parent, one voice doesn’t always represent the many. So you become like a mini-legislator when you are trying to represent parent voice because you can’t just only use your perspective in your opinion.

Bianca Scott:

You have to also gather that information from others so that you can say here’s what I’m hearing. Here’s what I’m hearing in my community. Here’s how this is going to impact parents. If schools don’t reopen, our economy might shut down. But is that worth playing with other people’s lives? Not playing with because that’s not the way that I would say that to them. It’s the way I would say it to you because that’s how I feel about it. But politically, I would say, we are endangering children’s lives and other families lives and teachers lives and all these different people. Is that worth the economy or the economics that are going to benefit if we open?

Bianca Scott:

So the first thing I would say is literally you need to get in touch with the decision-makers and ask who that is impacted is also at the table to be a part of the conversation. I know that parents in Chicago basically caused a shutdown. They were decisions being made about school reopening in Chicago and the parents were like you will not make any decisions until we are also a part of this conversation. So they’ve delayed the decision-making and now parents are at the table to also help with the reopening. There are a million different options and none of them work for everyone, obviously. They didn’t work that way before the pandemic, so that’s not going to be a realistic outcome or vision.

Bianca Scott:

However, saying that… In my state what happened was the governor originally was going to allow each school district to make their own decision about reopening because each school district is different. Miami Dade County, West Palm Beach County were the hotspots in Florida. Those schools did not need to reopen. But up in Alachua County, where there was one case, there was no reason that schools couldn’t reopen there. However, then the president came out and said schools must reopen or we’re not going to send funds. Then the governor came out and said, schools are going to reopen, we’re just going to reopen. All schools five days a week no matter what. That was not a fair…

Bianca Scott:

I was frustrated when he was not making a decision, the governor wasn’t, excuse me, providing what it felt like was good leadership. Said we’re going to let each school district do it. But then I realized that made sense. So then when he came out with the following decision, I was super frustrated because you actually did the right thing originally. You should let each district make its own decision. So now, again, now the districts are pushing back against them. We’ve got teachers union suing the state for reopening and reopening plans. Again, if they were parents in the conversation, they would probably be a lot better off or teachers union representatives in the conversation. Then all the people who matter would be at the table making a decision.

Bianca Scott:

So there are obviously a bunch of different models but I think if you can get… You may not be the person who’s at the table originally. They may not know you, they may not welcome you, and they may feel like you’re a troublemaker. That is also okay. However, we want you to make the decision that you know that somebody you can contact is going to represent your interests at the table and represent what your family is going to experience.

Nikevia Thomas:

Okay, thank you for that, Bianca. We have one final question that will segue us right into our question corner. How can parents best support their teachers during virtual learning?

Bianca Scott:

So I would say during virtual learning. Hang on one second, let me think about that. I think it is fair for you to reach out to your teacher, whether you have had a relationship with them or not prior to now. Ask them, “How can I be supportive?” They will tell you what they need, for the most part and it will one, build a relationship between you and the teacher. They, at least I can say here, teachers are struggling. We have one school district, I’m married. We have a blended family. My husband had children, I have children, and then we blended. So I have children that are attending in a different school district and it’s the one I actually grew up in, which used to make very sound decisions. They made the decision to push school back in my district until August 24th and in several districts around us. Orange County made the decision to push school back to August 21st, which was a Friday, which made no sense to me. I called and asked why. They explained it was the last day that they could move school start without impacting the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and spring break. That made a little more sense.

Bianca Scott:

But then they made the decision to start school on August 10th, which was the original start date, which is next Monday. Had not informed teachers, had not informed parents and basically put it out on social media that everybody was going to start school virtually on the 10th. Then the kids who are going back to school in-person on the 21st would show up on the 21st. People, parents, teachers made plans outside of those things. Teachers made plans to not have to pay for childcare for their kids and now they are in a situation where childcare has failed. Parents had to make a decision between face to face and virtual learning.

Bianca Scott:

So they are, obviously, lots of teachers are also parents. They are in a bind as well and they are saying here’s what I need or here’s how I’m not feeling supported. You can help by listening to that and trying to support them in any way. If a teacher says… Well, a teacher says that I’m going to need this child to really be focused for these few hours of the day. How can you help your child when you know your child may have anxiety, focus issues? Work on working with your child and explaining to the teacher your child’s needs. Again, if this is a new teacher for you and they don’t have any exposure or knowledge of your child prior to now, that will be helpful to them. That will help them manage the classroom, whether it’s virtual or in person.

Bianca Scott:

If a teacher says I’m just frustrated because they made this decision and they didn’t include thinking about us. Invite them to also voice their concerns, whether it’s via their union, whether it’s to you as you are going to be someone who also tries to represent their story. When you go back to a legislator and say or a school board member and say, “This is how it impacted me and this is how it impacted some of the teachers.” Then you are making that personal connection and again, that’s what they’re going to think about in the future.

Nikevia Thomas:

Okay, great. Thank you so much, Bianca for your time.

Bianca Scott:

You’re so welcome, anytime.

Nikevia Thomas:

Please stay with us as we go to the question corner.

Bianca Scott:

I certainly will.

Nikevia Thomas:

So now we have our question corner, centering your family’s educational and socio-emotional needs with Dr. Shaffer and Mariela Puentes.

Dr. Seth Shaffer:

Hello, everyone.

Nikevia Thomas:

If you all have questions, please send them to us in the Chat Box and we will answer them.

Mariela Puentes:

Hi, everyone, I feel one of the first questions we had got… Sorry, Nikevia.

Nikevia Thomas:

Yes. So the first questions we have is what are some best practices for early learners and in virtual distant learning?

Dr. Seth Shaffer:

I almost think if it’s okay with you guys before Mariela and I get into this, Bianca it’d be awesome if… First of all, you did an amazing job. What a great parent advocate you are, what a great human being you are, a great person. Now you’re helping an infinite amount of others through use of technology here, so thank you so much. Your voice was heard, your stories were heard, and we thank you. You’re a great model in a lot of different ways. But Bianca, actually, I have a question that’s related to this for you if you don’t mind.

Bianca Scott:

Okay, go for it.

Dr. Seth Shaffer:

So what do you… This relates to this question. If you don’t mind sharing, what are you doing to help prepare all your children as a family for just what’s to come? Even though we might not know in upcoming school year, just curious what you’re doing.

Bianca Scott:

Our district decided to offer three different models. There’s an in-person model, there’s a completely virtual model, which is through the state and that has existed for a long time prior to the pandemic. That matters because I think a lot of us struggled with spring because the teachers were not prepped. They didn’t know what platform they were using, there was a variety of different options that were happening because no one was prepared. So Florida virtual school had been prepared and our kids didn’t get enrolled in that program at the time because that would have overwhelmed the teachers and the systems that were already in place for the year. So there was that option, which was option two.

Bianca Scott:

Then option number three is with their, I think they’re calling it Launch Ed, which is the kids are starting virtually. They will attend the first quarter of school or semester virtually. But that is happening at the same time as the in-person option is happening. So if you enroll in the Launch Ed, which is what I chose for my children, they will be virtually attending class for the first nine weeks of school. Then we can assess whether we’re ready for them to go back in-person at the nine-week point. If we are not ready for them to go back, they will continue virtually for the next, I think four and a half weeks. Then they’re going to keep checking in until we can transition fully or we might wind up being virtual all year.

Bianca Scott:

The difference is that when the teacher is teaching in the classroom, the teacher is also teaching the virtual students, which is not how that happened in the spring. So that’s the option that we chose because I felt like it was the best model. My children hated the online learning because there was no real structure. My kids would probably never say it was because it wasn’t structured but that was the reason. They didn’t like there was no time for them to reach the teacher. If they had a question, they didn’t know when they could ask. They couldn’t reach out at any point. So then it became just kind of a free for all, whenever you can get around to doing it, do it. So that is the option that we chose because we feel like it’s the safest option. My children are medically compromised and so I don’t want to completely expose them. But I know that eventually that will probably be what happens and they’ll have to go back. So that is the option that we chose and we discussed it with them and they felt good about that option.

Bianca Scott:

They want to go back. They know they can’t go back quite yet but they will transition back in the very near future.

Dr. Seth Shaffer:

Thanks for sharing that, Bianca. So one of or a couple of things I heard from what you shared is that the adults, you found out what the different options were for your children. You thought about it, you made the best choice that you thought you could for your children. Either simultaneously or then once you decided, then you included your children to give them a heads up and dialogue with them. Let them express themselves, thoughts, feelings, et cetera, about how they feel about that.

Bianca Scott:

Absolutely.

Dr. Seth Shaffer:

Those two things really stand out. Segueing back to the original question I had that in my notes here. That I think as a family, the first and foremost, you have to triage the important things or decisions that you have to make right now for your family. So when it comes to best practices, what you can do with your kids at home, I think kind of keeping all your family’s needs in minds. Even if you need to write it down, if you have a partner talk with your partner, to talk it through out loud. That’s step one.

Dr. Seth Shaffer:

Step two then would be, I think also just building off of your children’s I want to say learning needs, socio-emotional needs, mental health needs. Just kind of focusing on that right now. What can I do with my kids in these uncertain times that are changing moment to moment? One of the things I can think of is your mindset. So mindset, I have a rising first grader. My mindset, my wife’s mindset going into the school year is that we want to make sure that our child feels that he’s taken care of, that he’s safe, that he’s supported emotionally. But also we’re trying to take the opportunity that when we have time, me and my wife both fortunately work, we’re very thankful for that. When we have time to spend with our kid, part of my mindset shift is also how can I take advantage of this opportunity? My kid is home more than they maybe ever will be, hopefully, knock on wood in our lives. one thing I’m thinking about this experiential learning. So taking the opportunity to maybe supplement what my kid might be receiving through their formal education, whether it’d be virtual or in person. Maybe explore, my son’s name is Julian, his interests. He’s into drawing, he’s into sea creatures, he’s into archeology, he’s into nature.

Dr. Seth Shaffer:

So when I have the time to spend with him and I make sure I make it a point to spend that quality time every day, which I think is crucial. Including having family meals together. I might explore one of those interests with him. We might go, we’ll put on our masks and go out and take a walk in the neighborhood and we call it a nature walk. There’s opportunities to be learning all the time.

Dr. Seth Shaffer:

I think in these uncertain times where a lot of us are incredibly stressed out and anxious about what’s happening. That I don’t want us to lose sight of things that we can control. I also don’t want us to lose sight that there are opportunities for your child to learn, grow, develop, through every interaction that you have with them. Mariela, do you want to, I might have veered a little bit off the question? Sometimes I do that and I apologize. Mariela will bring us back in. You want to add to that?

Mariela Puentes:

No, you’re fine. so I think the first thing that I think about with this question and I think it’s probably applicable to not just early learners but to learners generally. Is it the first thing to think about is that when you’re considering this virtual learning approach, it’s going to be different. So you have to almost accept that whatever you are hoping for or expecting, it’s probably not going to be it. So much of this pandemic is dealing with the unknown and what the uncertainty of what could come up today, what could come up tomorrow, how things might change. But I think to think about it as an opportunity, as Seth was mentioning. To think about the things that are important to you as a family, to think about how to make the best out of this possible situation, given all the challenges that have come up. Then the thing that is applicable to early learners is to practice on the more socio-emotional skills that children would normally be practicing if they were in an early childcare center or school. Such as like turn-taking, sharing materials. We know that’s going to be a little bit tricky with the pandemic and spreading germs. But I think skills like that, that you knew were going to help kids develop socio-emotionally, I think would be really helpful.

Mariela Puentes:

Then also maybe a suggestion is to think about more Montessori-like activities, that are more focused on practicing sensory skills or practicing real-life skills. So maybe it’s like spreading a topping on a Cracker. Maybe it’s like pouring water, counting, sorting. Those things that will help children. But maybe are not the immediate things you think about when you think about academic skills that they would be normally getting at school.

Dr. Seth Shaffer:

Just to build off of socio-emotional learning. In my opinion, socio-emotional learning is happening all the time. It’s happening with us right now as we’re engaging and participating in this webinar. Particularly with children, young children, the smaller, the younger they are, the more that you want to be focusing on… It’s a great point you’re making, Mariela. You want to be focusing on linking an emotion or feeling with the situation. Especially with things going on, I think that’s important, especially for the wee ones to give them language. Another thing is facilitating them, expressing emotion. So children express feelings mostly through play, including art. So if your child happens to be into art, that kind of a thing. I would consider sitting down with them. You do something that they’re interested in like drawing. Maybe ask them a question like this, “Hey, draw how you’re feeling today. I’m going to do it too, I’m going to draw how I’m feeling.”

Dr. Seth Shaffer:

What I like about that question as an opener for your kid, is it doesn’t say are you feeling sad? Like close questions. Are you feeling sad, are you feeling worried? Feelings can get jumbled up and particularly younger children, who their brains are developing. They’re not so aware of the specific words or maybe they are. But when you’re exposing children to specific feeling words like sad, mad, happy, the brain can interpret them as I’m either sad or I’m angry. Whereas when you ask the question, draw how you’re feeling today. Maybe they just scribble. I would put different colored crayons in front of them too. Maybe they pick up different colored crayons and that kind of a thing. For older children, I do have a link that I’d like to be posted here when it comes to educating kids around feelings. I think it’s called like what do you do when you flip your lid? It’s like a five-minute clip. I think it’s geared more toward elementary school students, maybe even middle. But you can kind of watch it before you would show it to your kid and feel it out. It’s more engaging for that age group, right because of the media, the platform. So we’ll post that hopefully in the chat there, so you guys have access to it.

Dr. Seth Shaffer:

Then another one for… Where was this other link? A focus on when it comes to socio-emotional learning also, problem-solving. This is where I think of as a psychologist and just as a person, this idea of a growth mindset. I’m sure many of you listening to this may have heard that term, growth mindset. You can Google it and learn more about it if you want to learn more. The growth mindset is the idea that the rule that you can have for yourself as we never say can’t. So even when I make a mistake on my homework or the virtual class was too difficult for me, mom or whoever’s taking care of you. That the parent will then acknowledge it. Okay, so that was hard for you. What was hard about it? You try and help them process it. that’s a socio-emotional kind of angle.

Dr. Seth Shaffer:

Then having them pull something out of it like okay, I haven’t… One thing that’s hard for me was staying focused. Then you shift the conversation, so the parents like okay, what do you think you might want to try to do differently? Let’s brainstorm a little bit about what we can do differently next time to help you focus. I actually, I believe in the newsletter for MAEC that’s coming out next week. I answered that specific question on ways that you can help your kids focus. There’s other things that are addressed in that newsletter question but that, like little tips and tricks and things like that. So I encourage you to sign up for the MAEC newsletter. If you already are, then lookout for the one that’s coming next week because it focuses on that.

Dr. Seth Shaffer:

I’m going to stop rambling there, except just to not leave out our middle school and high school population of SEL, socio-emotional stuff. This population is just tough. We were all middle-schoolers. I don’t really know who’s on this actually but assuming we’re all adults here. We were all middle-schoolers once, we were all high schoolers once. There’s a lot happening developmentally and there’s this thing that typically happens in this population of individuation. I’m trying to form my own identity, I might be trying to distance myself a little bit from you, like mom or dad or mom-mom, dad-dad, whoever’s there or grandparents. A lot of that is developmental. So when it comes to socio-emotional learning, I think the most important thing for that population, particularly high school students, make yourself available. Do the check-in even if your kid’s like leave me alone or I’m fine. Usually, I’m fine, as a parent you know your kid better than anyone. You can tell that their words don’t necessarily reflect what could it be going on inside them. You also don’t want to pry and be too in their face.

Dr. Seth Shaffer:

Important thing is just making sure that your door is open. You let your child know okay, you don’t want to talk about it right now, that’s fine. You know that I’m here for you whenever you’re ready. That’s a socio-emotional component too. I think now I’m going to stop rambling. Mariela, do you want to add something? Do we have enough time for one more question?

Mariela Puentes:

So I just wanted to add something quite about the middle school piece. Is that even if they don’t want to talk to you in that moment, just you acknowledging that they may be experiencing some sort of emotion or maybe they’re processing differently that day or something’s weighing on their mind. Just you noticing that goes a long way and you can leave that conversation open for later, for whenever they’re ready. Just them knowing that you’re there and available, I think goes a very long way.

Dr. Seth Shaffer:

Related to that, how you regulate yourself in those moments. Your child’s voice might go up or become lower or whatever, which could be manifestation of how they’re feeling. In addition to what I really like what you just said, Mariela. I think as hard as it can be at times, especially when temperatures rise like with irritability, anger, those kinds of feeling, and those kinds of strong things. That you do your best as a parent to regulate and model calmness. One thing that I’ve experienced directly and I do every day as a parent and also professionally, is that how I’m letting my feelings come out, trickles down to my kid. So I think that would be the other piece that I would add to that too, that you try to stay regulated as you can as a parent. That helps your kid regulate in the moment. What’s next?

Nikevia Thomas:

We’ve come to the end of our time, so we have to wrap up, unfortunately.

Dr. Seth Shaffer:

No worries. Maybe the questions we didn’t get answered, maybe MAEC, we’ll get together and figure out a way to answer those and disseminate the responses there. Thank you guys so much for this opportunity and thanks for joining us. I know there’s going to be… Nikevia you take it away from Mariela.

Nikevia Thomas:

Thank you, Seth. So I would like to share with you all some school reopening resources. These resources will be in the letter that goes out to you all, with the recording of this broadcast. We also have some more resources about COVID-19 and school psychology and special needs. You can also connect with us for updates on COVID-19 by visiting our website. You can also sign up for our newsletter, learning at home. You can also join us for our 2020 Maryland Family Engagement Summit webinar series that starts August 13th at 3:00 PM. Thank you so much for joining us, we look forward to hearing from you. Please take a few moments to share your thoughts about our webinar by filling out this brief survey. Thank you and we’ll see you next time.

 

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