Reimagining NY: What prolonged online learning could mean for parents, kids and teachers

Reimagining New York

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — When asked recently about whether schools will reopen in the fall, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said “I don’t know, and I don’t think anybody knows.”

The possibility of prolonged online learning is raising a lot of red flags, leaving many concerned.

Like most parents, Christina Higley has been homeschooling her kids for several months. She’s grateful to have the resources she needs, but understands not everyone is in the same boat.

“Not every child is able to learn online, or has a safe and conducive environment,” Higley said.

That’s why she created a Facebook group called “Roc for Educational Freedom” where dozens of members work together to make sure their voices are heard as New York state officials make decisions about the future of online education.

“As a professor as well, who’s developed and taught online numerous courses at many colleges, what I can say is it takes extensive training, time and millions of dollars to create those types of platforms for a quality online or hybrid education,” Higley said.

Glen VanDerwater, Chief Technology Officer for the Rochester City School District, says RCSD has provided free wifi for thousands, but there is a challenge in making sure students are using it to learn.

“That’s a very difficult question to answer at this time, but what we can do is monitor the number of student contacts each teacher makes,” VanDerwater said. “Is this sustainable? This has to be sustainable. We have no choice.”

However, some mental health professionals worry about kids in a toxic home environment.

“We have seen a lot of kids completely lose structure to their day and therefore fall into really miscalculated sleep patterns which then have a terrible effect on your mood,” said Andrew Bellush, Rochester Regional Health Primary Therapist. “There are issues with parent-child conflicts and things like that that come that they can’t get away from. We definitely have some major concerns going on right now in our community.”

Rachel Rosner with Autism Up says students with disabilities are being left in the dust, as many have sensory issues and a hard time focusing during online video calls.

If students can’t go back to regular school in the fall something else will need to be done,” Rosner said. “I don’t really know the answer. Maybe teachers and therapists can be deemed essential workers.”

Nobody knows what a perfect-case scenario looks like, but Higley just hopes everyone’s voices are heard to try and make sure they get the best education possible while staying safe during this pandemic.

“Everybody needs to work together for the greater good of our children,” she said.

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