Some students struggle with remote learning as COVID-19 metrics worsen statewide

School districts are taking a cautious approach over a return to in-person instruction, as COVID-19 metrics worsen statewide.

While many students now have a better handle on remote instruction, that doesn't mean it's been an easy transition.

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"We know kids do best in in-person school environments. The research is really clear on that. And there are a lot of parents who want their kids to go back to school, but can't," said Whitney Tucker, the Policy Director for the advocacy group NC Child.

Tucker acknowledged the difficult position many school boards are in, as they balance safety concerns presented by the virus and the importance of learning and socialization growth. She believes districts need to assess their community's respective metrics and ability to handle students and staff in the classroom.

As remote instruction continues, she stressed the need for further financial support.

"Some of the things that we are most worried about with kids being out of school like abuse and neglect, that those things go down when families are economically supported and they feel secure," said Tucker.

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Letha Muhammad is the Executive Director of the advocacy group Education Justice Alliance, and parent to two Southeast Raleigh Magnet High students.

"I have the tale of two different experiences. My oldest is a senior this year. Prior to remote learning, she was a very motivated student, loved school, always been very engaged. Remote learning hasn't really served her. We've had to have a lot of conversations around remote learning, her feeling around being disconnected from school and her classmates," said Muhammad.

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Muhammad said her son has found greater comfort in the shift.

"My son, on the other hand, has always been ambivalent about school. But this year, in the virtual learning space he has been a self-starter, motivated, staying on top of his grades. The sense of autonomy that he gets to be in as a virtual learner is really working for him," Muhammad said.

She believes the pandemic has highlighted existing inequities within the district.

"There's definitely a wealth gap in our district, and there are more affluent folks who have had access to all of the things to be successful in virtual learning, whether it's the internet, or it's computer access, or even tutors," said Muhammad.

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"We're hearing from parents that it is very difficult to balance full-time work with supporting remote instruction for their kids at home. Especially for younger children, they need some adult supervision and assistance, a lot of the time to get connected, to stay connected to the internet, to remain engaged in the work, to follow up on the things that they're learning in class. And parents can't do that if they're also working at home, or especially parents who are frontline responders, and need to be away from home while they work. Now they're looking for childcare options that across many parts of the state, don't exist anymore," Tucker added.

Muhammad acknowledged the district's effort to help teachers and parents support children, but would like to see more funding for mental health resources.

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"I think there is a real need for families to have access to therapy as a way to weather this storm, and I wonder what funds, what additional funds can be channeled towards provide that kind of support to families. Especially the (families) that we can identify and know for sure that they're struggling. As a parent, if I got a message from my school that said, 'there's some additional dollars that we have or some therapists available,' I'd jump at the chance if I wasn't able to pay for that service myself or didn't have insurance. And I believe other parents would be interested in getting access to those type of services as well," said Muhammad.
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