When Texas Governor Greg Abbott shuttered schools for the rest of the academic year, the first person I thought of was one of my first-grade students, Maria. She is one of my best and brightest first graders and I have not spoken to her since we transitioned to at-home learning last month.
I have called the three phone numbers I have for her family and sent messages to the email addresses on file. It has been four weeks since our last contact and I worry about her daily. I wonder if she is safe, is she eating well, or does she think I have abandoned her?
Maria, and many kids at my school like her, have had to deal with a double whammy of a devastating tornado in October that almost demolished our school building, and now a global pandemic that has stolen not only their daily school routine, but also eliminated many certainties in their daily lives including a hot meal at lunch.
As a teacher, I have felt helpless at times. As I struggle to even communicate with Maria and her family, I have real concerns about her safety and well-being. But beyond that, I have concerns about her academic development and how this lost instructional time will erode her educational foundation before it is even set.
As an early childhood educator in the time of Covid-19, I understand how important the knowledge and skills acquired now are to my students’ long-term success. If I am unable to contact Maria and her family, she will suffer from a longer than normal break from learning that could derail her academic development. If we can begin school in August, she will have had a five-month break. That type of break can lead to learning loss that we have never witnessed before.
Research has found a direct correlation between socioeconomic status and the loss of reading and language skills and even greater dips in mathematics. Studies show that most children regress some over the summer break, but children living in poverty and trauma like mine are impacted more severely because of a lack of attainable resources.
Even with consistent engagement in at-home learning, it is difficult to connect with my kindergarten and first-grade students. But I know it is imperative that I do whatever I can to help my students achieve. So, while April 17 may have been the day school buildings were closed in Texas, I see it as the first day of my 2020-2021 school year. I am fortunate to be able to loop up to the next grade with my students next year, so I will have all the same students and families.
The most important resource I can offer them is access to me. I serve a community where parents won’t get paid if they don’t work and most don’t have jobs that allow them to work from home, so this summer my schedule will be tailored to support my students and families. Like most teachers, I have set up Google Classroom and Remind to help me communicate with my families all summer long, and I have provided them with a variety of online resources. But, most importantly, I have contacted as many of my parents as I can and I've made sure they know I'm here to support them and their child’s academic development.
In these uncertain times, I have decided to focus on the things I can control. While I may not be able to control when I see Maria again, I will make sure I am ready to meet her where she is when she returns. This summer is dedicated to my students and providing authentic at-home learning activities.
I will continue to speak greatness over my students at David G. Burnet Elementary School, home of the All-Stars and Mr. Hale’s Champions.
Eric Hale is a first and second grade teacher at David G. Burnet elementary school and Dallas ISD Elementary School Teacher of The Year for 2019-2020. Eric is also the 2019-2020 Queen Smith Award winner, an award given to the top urban school teacher in America.