March 18, 2020
As the coronavirus has spread across the United States, most school districts have shut down completely or shifted to home-based educational formats. Learning at home can take many shapes, from working on packets of study materials to having online classes, but for most students, the shift is a big change from classroom learning.
Having a daily schedule is essential to ensuring that everyone in the home treats schoolwork the same way they would if it took place in the classroom. When the whole family understands that you're handling your geometry class from 10 to 11 each morning, you'll minimize distractions and ensure that you can study uninterrupted. In addition, keeping a schedule is good for creating a smoother transition from the school building to the home setting.
"Staying on a schedule is something students depend on and makes them feel safe," Drapala says. "Particularly if they feel stressed during this period of uncertainty, maintaining a normal schedule will help reduce their anxiety and give them something to look forward to during each allotted time slot."
She urges families to maintain not only time for class periods, but also for meals and other activities. Students are accustomed to having breakfast and lunch at the same time each day based on their school schedules, so keeping that cadence is important at home during this time.
Students should set aside a spot in the house where they can study and focus on their classwork without distraction. "Make sure it's a place they can concentrate," Drapala says. "It shouldn't be next to someone else who's working on something else like taking conference calls. If you're taking online classes, you have to listen to the teacher and participate in that, and that's hard to do if someone next to you is talking."
If your house is small or it's laid out in such a way where you don't have separate spaces for everyone, consider staggering study times so each person has time alone to work without distractions, she advises.
In most school districts, counselors are still available to students, so if you're having any challenges, reach out to yours. "I set up a Google Classroom page where the students can chat with each other and I can see their frustrations," Drapala says. "So as the counselor, I am watching what they're discussing and monitoring what's going on so I can keep an eye on any kids affected." For instance, if she sees a student expressing concern about a parent losing their job due to coronavirus closures, she can reach out to that student privately after the fact and offer resources.
"I also set up a phone line for communication with students, and they can set up one on one appointments to talk to me," Drapala notes. In addition, she designed a Google form where students can privately and anonymously share their concerns, and she can respond to them in real time.
Since most students are accustomed to being out with friends or participating in extracurriculars during the school year, it can be isolating to stay home and study there. To ward off those feelings of isolation, students should take care of their emotional health, she advises.
"Find out what helps you relax and capitalize on that," she says. "Talk about your feelings, learn breathing techniques, do yoga, chat with friends, and anything else that puts you in a healthy mindset."
Another great way to clear your mind is to make sure you have some physical activity each day. Even though you aren't able to attend baseball practice, you can still find ways to get in your exercise.
"It's spring, so most students are able to get outside," Drapala says. "We encourage them to take walks and stay active. Maintain social distancing like anywhere else, but get some fresh air as part of your routine. For instance, you might walk the dog at 3:00 every day or shoot hoops in your driveway at lunchtime."
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