By Jan Jones
I participated in a Georgia Public Policy Foundation virtual panel on July 21 to discuss what changes might come about in K-12 education during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. We are in the midst of a stunning and changing time. This includes school systems, teachers and parents preparing for the fall term when Georgia’s children will return to learning, a lot in an online format.
My role as Speaker Pro Tempore of the Georgia House of Representatives puts me in different communities across our state. I’ve observed and heard from parents and teachers over the years about unevenness in Georgia’s educational richness prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. This unevenness has been exacerbated by the abrupt change to out-of-classroom learning in March. Some students, teachers and parents thrived through an online format. Most school systems and educators fought tirelessly to serve their students creatively and through plain hard work. But some children were not provided minimally acceptable online learning or even regular paper packets. As the next term commences, everyone can learn lessons on what worked and what didn’t. What matters is putting systems and procedures in place that assure all children learn and thrive.
Given the incredible diversity of the 1.7 million children in Georgia public schools and their individual circumstances, it will be a high challenge to meet their needs through remote learning only. Some lack internet service, a parent or caregiver at home during the day, or have special learning or physical needs. The list is long and heart-breaking when you consider how many children will not physically have the opportunity to be in a classroom.
We have a fairly robust offering of options of for our state’s students. These include traditional public schools, like my four children attended; state and locally authorized public charter schools; online public schools; homeschooling; and private schools. Still, we can do more. There’s a keen interest in micro-schools (also called pods) by some parents, particularly during this time. I will be exploring state law and how we can be supportive of parents who want to hire tutors or a teacher to work with a small group of students.
It’s hard to imagine much good coming from the pandemic. So much disruption on every level. We all grieve for the losses, particularly loss of life. What good can we bring about during this time and after it passes? How can school systems and the state better support students and teachers every day and during times of crisis? How can we better support students in non-public situations, including homeschooling, private and other emerging trends such as micro schools? That’s our challenge and charge.
But what we cannot lose sight of is the fact that many children — in a month — will not be in what many parents consider the best setting for them: a traditional school classroom. One size does not fit all; numerous children need a structured environment.
We all want the same thing — for young people to learn, thrive and achieve the American Dream. They are relying on us to provide them the tools, and this begins with a learning environment and mode to fit their needs.
This post appeared on the Facebook page of Georgia State Rep. Jan Jones, House Speaker Pro Tem, on July 21, 2020, after she participated in the 2020 Georgia Legislative Policy Forum education panel discussion, “Opportunities for Education Adaptation.”