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EXTRA: Conversation with NYS School Boards Association

A socially distanced classroom of five students at Newfane Middle School
Newfane Middle School
A socially distanced classroom, like this one at Newfane Middle School in July, will be common a students return to school for the fall semester.

As students return to the classroom, school districts will be facing unique challenges. WBFO's Jay Moran discussed some of the specifics with the head of the New York State School Boards Association.

WBFO's Jay Moran talks with the NYSSBA's Bob Schneider about returning to school

Executive Director Bob Schneider's group is out with a new report appropriately titled, "Back to School 2021," addressing learning loss and student well being. That report looks to address the troubling findings from McKinsey & Company that students, on average, are five months behind in math learning and four months behind in reading.

JM: How are we going to expect students to catch up?

BS: So one of the things we highlighted in this report is what's called high-dosage tutoring. And you know, I always looked at tutoring. Growing up, it was either a volunteer or parents would do that. That's a different level of tutoring. High-dosage tutoring is a tutoring part of the educational program where it's embedded into certain days, where a student or say, ideally, one, two or three students can get some time with a tutor who has either a teacher or a paraprofessional, a teacher's aide, if you will. Now that can be done. And that is a good way to try to get those students up to speed. High-dosage tutoring has proven to be an effective way to get students back up and learning at the level they need to be.

JM: You look at how that school year went last year and it seems like it went on forever in so many different ways. What about that? What have we found out about how it impacted students overall their their mental health or emotional well being? What are we hearing about?

BS: Well, I think it's safe to say that even for adults, COVID-19, the pandemic and other things that are happening that you see on the news, they're traumatic to us. I believe the CDC reported that the emergency room admissions for child health, mental health issues went up over 25%, almost 30%, depending on the age and the sex of the child during this this pandemic. So we have to address that. And we address that with certain things. Now the high-dosage tutoring is one way to do it, because that student has some competence and confidence building and some trust in a teacher who's focusing in on them and paying attention to them. But there's other things we have to do. We have to hire more school psychologists, we have to have psychiatrists involved, we have to understand and assess that student coming into the school environment coming back into the building. We want to make sure we don't stress these students out too much. We've got to push them along at the level they can and we have to recognize the trauma they might be bringing into the school district.

JM: Now I'm curious whether or not your report addressed this or if you've heard anecdotally through some of your members of the School Board Association. But what about remote learning versus in-class learning, I can only speak for me, I know. I probably would have really struggled with remote learning. But have we heard of some students who perhaps maybe enjoyed it, who maybe even thrived on it.

BS: There are students that liked it and advanced, and what we want is we want the majority of students in the classroom. We know that that virtual environment cannot replace that live environment for two reasons. That's the teachers are in front of them. They're watching body language. And you know, the student doesn't have the choice to turn the screen off or the mic. They're there. So that's more effective. And also the interactions with their peers and other adults in the building. That's important for their social development. Yet there are students that are liking this at this point. Now remember, you might have students that have health issues also. So they might not want to be back in the school environment, their parents might or guardians might not want that. So there should be a virtual option. But that's really at the local districts' choice to do that. And I know around the state, both of these are coordinating these virtual classrooms for those particular students that might have health reasons where they can't get in there. Or maybe they are thriving and the decision is made to keep them out of the school for now and try to move them back into the building down the road.

JM: Bob Schneider, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association. Good luck with the start of school and thanks very much for joining us.

BS: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

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