Back to School Fall 2020: Persisting in a Pandemic

Back to School

This article originally appeared in START Connecting in September 2020. 

This week is the official start of the fall season. It is usually the time when kids are settling into school, the leaves turn colors, football is in full swing, and the hunt for pumpkins begins. Here at START, we attend the kick off RCN meetings, prepare for the first intensive training modules, and finalize the agenda for the November RCN leadership meeting. This school year will certainly be different for all of us, but at least we are a bit more prepared than we were in the spring when our world was turned upside down by the global pandemic.

We acknowledge the many hardships and challenges in the rear-view mirror and the uncertainty and continued challenges up ahead. We want to also reflect on what we have learned and accomplished since March 2020 and share some of those thoughts with you. We hope that you too have a list of ways you have grown through a pandemic. 

Social distancing and lack of in-person contact is hard. But for us at START, we found we met more frequently (virtually, of course) and as a result, we saw our colleagues from all over the state far more often than we would have in the pre-pandemic world. Not only did this allow us to be productive, but it brought us closer as a team and allowed us to expand our team members to include school partners from all over the state. We will take this new way of meeting and working into the future.

When there is a sense of urgency, everyone rallies and problems are solved, new resources are created, and support is offered even more generously. You might recall from Psychology 101 that a common goal brings people together. Our common goal was to support kids, families, and each other during this difficult time. We were often uncertain and unclear where to start but ultimately, we did our best, showed we cared, and came up with creative solutions to truly novel problems. 

It almost goes without saying that we all developed technology skills beyond our wildest imagination. Who knew we would all be experts on Zoom, Google Classroom, Schoology, Flipgrid, Boom Cards, Screencastify, Padlet, and dozens of other new technologies. Consider not only your skill development but that of parents and students. We are all better prepared for what lies ahead in the 21st century. 

We want to say how impressed we are with our school partners and families around the state and the hopeful start back. For example, students have learned to wear masks. Kudos to the parents and professionals who worked on this over the summer and a big shout out to the kids for surprising us with how resilient and adaptable they can be. Most students are excited to walk back into school (or sign on to Zoom), check their schedules, and see their teachers, even if at a distance. High school students are thrilled to see their friends.

Our biggest challenges are to make sure students across the state stay connected with their peers and make up ground from lost learning. We, at START, are trying to play our own small part in helping kids get back to school successfully. Our role is not to work with students but to provide training and resources to school staff that support students and families. We want to share some of the resources we created this summer along with several state partners who generously committed time to create tools to support students’ return to school. 

What’s in store for us this school year? There are many unknowns. But students will settle into the new routines, the leaves will still turn red, orange, and yellow, and pumpkins will still show up on front porches. Here at START we are still meeting with RCN, conducting the intensive training series, and planning for fall leadership day, albeit all virtually. We will persist even in a pandemic.

For the 2020-2021 school year, we wish for students to be back in their brick and mortar buildings with their teachers and peers as soon as safely possible to do what kids do in school – learn together.

Written by: Amy Matthews, Ph.D., BCBA - Project Director

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