Let's find unique solutions for our struggling children
Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for all of us.
Some have lost their jobs. Others have lost their homes. In the worst cases, some have lost their lives.
While adults of the world are coping with these tragic and life-changing events, there is a group of people who have seen their lives turned upside down in all of this: our children. They have lost what is so important for them to thrive — their sense of normalcy and their sense of belonging.
For the most part, the devastating effects of COVID-19 hasn't been due to contracting the virus itself. In-person school has ceased, causing feelings of isolation, stress and more.
We realize that some schools are reopening. Yet many will still learn from home. As children continue to learn from the confines of their home, virtual school is a chore for thousands here in Clackamas County. For many children, access to internet, a device for online instruction and materials to do their work are not available. It is clear to many of us: The current system for at-home learning or even hybrid learning is inequitable and causing harm.
Not only is learning more difficult without full-time, in-person instruction from the outstanding teachers in each community, there are other aspects children are missing. Namely, the socialization skills children learn in the classroom is essential for them to develop into happy, secure adults. We are grateful for of our local educators — from teachers, to instructional aids, to educational assistants and so many more. They are doing everything they can to help children thrive during this unprecedented time. These professionals continually perform amazing work, both day and night, in order to keep our children thriving as much as possible. They do this all while traversing our new virtual and digital landscape and part-time in-person learning that teaching has become. We want to make it clear that we support our local educators and are lucky to have them in our communities.
However, income and resource disparities exist among families who are succeeding with the homeschool model, and those who are not. And while we knew issues existed relating to at-home learning, they were reinforced at an October listening session we held when we discussed how to support children during a pandemic.
One listening-session attendee — a mother of three young children in grades fifth, third and kindergarten — told an emotional story about her youngest son who has Down syndrome. Through her tears, the mother said he is not able to engage at all with school. The tailored instruction for him that he had received while in school is now non-existent. Once school moved online due to the pandemic, his mother said he is falling further and further behind in school. That, coupled with the loss of social interaction with his friends, has his mother worried.
"I'm sorry I'm crying," she told us. "It's taken a toll on our family — really bad."
That's just one of the stories we heard that day. We were touched by the experiences of the parents who spoke and emailed their concerns, which were read during the listening session. After all, children are experiencing some of the same emotions and feelings as their parents as they adjust to different ways of continuing their everyday life.
Although voters did not pass the Children's Levy in November, we can still take action to help our kids through this difficult time. More than ever, now is the time to act.
We're calling on all communities here in Clackamas County — individuals, nonprofits, schools and others — to come together to make a difference in the lives of these children. Finding creative solutions to difficult situations is a strength Clackamas County residents have in spades. Let's use that innovative thinking now to help our kids get through this challenging school year.
While the county does not oversee school districts or have any authority about school district operations in Clackamas County, we nonetheless aim to see each child reach their utmost potential in the most creative way possible. After all, we know support for education and emotional well-being for students is paramount right now.
We hope you share with us your ideas to help our future generation thrive right here in our own communities during a follow-up listening session at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 10. Please email or call into the listening session with creative ways to support our kids during this crisis. The details and link to join the listening session can be found at clackamas.us.
In the meantime, please continue to do everything possible to follow health and safety guidelines and protocols related to COVID-19 as we work together in helping our children.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Martha Schrader and Sonya Fischer are Clackamas County commissioners.
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