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W&M School of Education rallies to support K-12 at-home learning

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    Learning hub:  The School of Education building houses William & Mary's nationally-ranked School of Education and brings all of its academic programs, outreach centers and research projects together in a highly professional setting designed to stimulate collaboration and innovation.  Photo by Sasaki Associates
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When William & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe asked School of Education faculty to organize a webinar for parents to assist their children in at-home learning after schools were closed because of COVID-19, those faculty members were already brainstorming how they could help parents.

Education faculty made quick decisions on what would be best to include and how to keep the format simple, and held the first of several webinars on at-home learning on April 3. They will host another webinar for Spanish-language parents on April 17 at noon, have set up an at-home learning hub full of resources and tips and are planning several more webinars.

Future webinar topics include support for struggling readers April 29 at 2 p.m. and a planned session on mindfulness in the virtual classroom. The webinars are live with a question-and-answer period at the end, and each will be archived for later viewing.

More than 1,000 people registered for the first one.

Kristin Conradi Smith (Photo courtesy of School of Education)“All of us are trying to keep up our teaching and research at the same time, but we believe this has to be the service that we’re doing right now because there’s a need,” said Kristin Conradi Smith, associate professor of reading education, who organized the initial webinar and at-home learning hub setup.

“This really was just a collaborative and very fast effort. I happened to be the one who put the hub together, but everyone’s authors on it.”

Not intended to replace classroom teachers, the information being provided is intended to assist parents with helping students at various grade levels with their schoolwork, as well as to help them monitor their child’s psychological well-being at this time, according to faculty members. The idea is to keep information simple and accessible.

The first webinar presented five tips in the areas of social and emotional well-being, creativity and screen time, reading, math, science and supporting students with special needs. One faculty member in each area gave tips and suggested activities as well as links to more resources.

The goal is to “partner with you on continuity of learning” for the remainder of this school year, said Amy Colley, one of the moderators and executive director of the School-University Research Network.

Challenges for parents are wide-ranging, according to Conradi Smith. Variables include what materials were sent home with students, their grade level and access to online resources.

“I think they’re varied and they’re many, and the public school system does a great job teaching our kids and providing for our communities,” Conradi Smith said. “Suddenly when that’s not going on, at least physically, that’s been problematic for a lot of us. And then there’s just the stressful situation of what’s going in general.”

Meredith Kier (Photo courtesy of School of Education)Meredith Kier, associate professor of science education, presented the science segment on the first webinar. She also is personally experiencing the juggling act of working at home and helping with schoolwork with her daughters ages 8 and 5 and husband, who also works at the School of Education.

“As educators and teacher advocates ourselves, we are trying to navigate the plethora of resources available online that align with elementary school standards,” Kier said. “This process has magnified the empathy that we have for other parents, K-12 teachers and students who are being asked to change the structure of their lives, profession and social/learning environment during this time.

“The School of Education hopes to continue to support our community with quality educational resources to help make this time less stressful. We hope teachers and parents will give themselves grace during this unprecedented event in our lives.”

Gladys Krause, assistant professor of mathematics education and a native of Colombia who conducted the math segment of the first webinar, worked with Katherine Barko-Alva, assistant professor of English as a second language/bilingual education, to put together the webinar for Spanish-speaking parents.

Gladys Krause (Photo courtesy of School of Education)“Stereotypes often portray Spanish-speaking parents as disengaged from their children's education and unresponsive to contact from schools,” Krause said. “However, the truth is frequently different — the parents often come themselves from educational systems with more rigid and faster-paced curricula and have a hard time understanding why their children are being taught in a very different manner. This is often compounded by language barriers in communication between home and school.

“The webinar provides a space for community engagement and seeks to extend a sense of connectedness. For the Spanish-speaking families in particular, it provides resources in their own language, perhaps most importantly access to people who speak their language and understand their culture.”

Faculty members are choosing topics to cover based on feedback from the parents in the community.

“We want to do what William & Mary does well, which is be of service to our local community, so that was our goal,” Conradi Smith said. “We don’t want to step on teachers’ toes or look like we are saying, ‘Hey, teachers are not doing their job so we’re jumping in.’ We’re just trying to be of help right now in this small way.”