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COMMENTARY: Coronavirus – threat, opportunity or both?

[/media-credit] Curtis Weathers

By Curtis Weathers | New Tri-State Defender

Well, this is my first column, so why not start with the most obvious challenge facing our education community and our nation as a whole – the COVID 19 pandemic?

I’ve posed a question to some of my colleagues and friends: Is this pandemic a threat to our children’s education, an opportunity or both? Their answers were intriguing.

Many, of course, had no problem delineating the threats facing students, their families and our community. Most agree that the pandemic will cause an enormous loss of learning and that the situation is so overwhelming that they cannot fathom how anything positive can be gained going forward.

We all recognize that schools are special and unique places in our society. It is where our children develop their intellect and practice social skills; are nourished each day with healthy meals; are taught the importance of respect and discipline, and, for most, have their self-worth reaffirmed each and every day. So, having all of that taken away poses a formidable threat to their continued psychological and intellectual development.

The health and safety concerns of administrators, teachers and support staff are of paramount importance as well. School leaders, however, are continually addressing these threats. But what “opportunities” might there be in the midst of all the upheaval to our educational systems?

Unfortunately, it is not so easy to recognize the opportunities. They are clouded by health and safety concerns, economics and uncertainty. But they do exist.

Government and school leaders across this nation have decided to reopen schools this year using a variety of strategies. Some chose full in-person learning, others are using a hybrid model (part virtual, part in-person), and then there are those implementing full-scale virtual learning programs.

Here in Memphis, I support the decision by district leaders to go entirely virtual. As a principal, I was always a huge advocate of online instruction. Before I retired, I realized a long-time dream of equipping all of my students with their own laptops, and becoming a complete technology-based school.

For years, I felt that we, as educators, were missing opportunities to enhance and enrich the teaching and learning process by integrating technology into every aspect of classroom instruction. The pandemic has exposed our unpreparedness for the world of virtual learning.

Ready or not, school systems are being forced-fed the opportunity to use technology to facilitate teaching and learning in their new virtual classrooms. It is, however, a new normal that can and will be hugely beneficial in the future.

While I am saddened by what this pandemic has done to families and communities throughout our nation, I see the widespread utilization of virtual learning tools in the teaching and learning process as a huge opportunity to advance and prepare our youth. However, it’s imperative that all children have the Internet bandwidth and computers required to keep them fully engaged.)

Some of the stories I’m hearing regarding teachers who are providing exciting and creative virtual learning environments for their students have been encouraging. As teachers get more creative, students also feel inspired to find ways to immerse themselves in new learning experiences as well. I look forward to sharing some of their stories.

There is no denying that virtual technology will continue to play a prominent role in our educational systems. Many will struggle in the beginning, but I’m confident that students and educators eventually will make the transition successfully. The compelled shift to remote learning might be the catalyst needed to create new and more effective methods of classroom instruction.

I have no doubt that our schools and our lives will soon return to normal. Meanwhile, we can turn threats and misfortune into opportunities to move Shelby County ahead. When this is all over, both teachers and students will appreciate the new tools and skills they will have acquired during this unprecedented period in American history. I wish them nothing but the best!

So please stay safe everyone, wear your masks and practice good hygiene and social distancing.

This article originally appeared in The New Tri-State Defender.

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