Early childhood experts say virtual school challenging for youngest students

Early childhood experts say virtual school challenging for youngest students

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Early childhood experts say the youngest learners are at the greatest risk for falling behind in a virtual school environment. Specifically, Pre-K through 2nd graders.

Pre-K in Chatham County is a lottery program that parents applied to months ago. There are only 1,400 seats district wide. And the wait list has about 500 children on it.

Now, here we are, two weeks away from the virtual start of Pre-K and parents are considering their options.

Natalia Quintero has a lot to consider when school starts.

“I’m a little bit anxious, to be honest,” Quintero said. “I have three kids. One in middle school, one in elementary school going into the fourth grade and my youngest is going into Pre-K,” Quintero said.

And, like so many, she's working from home during the pandemic.

“I’m on the phone or in meetings. It’s very difficult for me to stop what I’m doing and teach,” Quintero said.

Her older children understand how virtual school works, but her 4-year-old Victoria doesn't. And the little virtual interaction she had with her dance class this summer did not go well.

“There’s no way that she would even look at the camera and that was something that was fun, and she was already familiar with, she knew the teacher, she knew the kids,” Quintero said.

Several other parents say they're not only worried about their child falling behind, but also losing their prized Pre-K spot. The spot can determine which school their child attends through the 5th grade. So, there's a lot at stake. Something that Pre-K administrators understand."

“A lot of them are concerned. ‘Ms. Drought, my child is going to be in daycare during the day they’re not going to be able to participate.’ I have assured them that we are going to be flexible and work with their schedules. Any activities they are not able to participate in we will upload or email a video to them,” said Amanda Drought, with the Pre-K Lottery Program.

Drought says they're following state guidance. That 4-year-olds have no more than one hour of screen time for virtual instruction.

It's tough because early childhood experts say Pre-K through 2nd grade is the age when children learn how to learn in the classroom.

“I think we will all agree, from pediatricians to educators, that is a really critical period that we want them in school and in classrooms. Having face-to-face instruction for those students is of prime importance to us all,” Georgia Southern College of Education Assistant Dean Alisa Leckie said.

But what little virtual time they have together will be creative.

“I saw a pajama party one evening at 7:30. The teacher read a good night story to the children. They brought their teddy bears,” Drought said.

Twice a week, students will have one-on-one screen time with their teacher. But much of the virtual plan requires parents to have hands-on activities with their children. Quintero is looking for options if things don't go well. Victoria is on the wait list for a private Pre-K program.

“I think in-person will work best. I have the older boys trying to do their work, and she won’t know that they’re trying to work,” Quintero said.

As for when Savannah-Chatham Pre-K will return to the classroom, Drought said there is discussion about the youngest learners going back first when it's safe for all students to return to the classroom.

The big question of course is when will it be safe? That all depends on our community spread numbers in Chatham County.

Here are some Virtual Learning Tips for Pre-K parents: Educators with Savannah-Chatham say to:

  1. Designate a virtual learning area in a quiet place that is large enough to use materials
  2. Students should use the restroom prior to the session.
  3. Be on time.
  4. Have necessary learning materials. Teacher will communicate what items are needed prior to session.
  5. Place learning materials in a container.

Parents should post a daily picture schedule for their child to follow.

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