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Parenting Guide: Education

This past school year was by far one of the toughest years for learning. The challenges posed by the pandemic resulted in some degree of social and academic loss for all grade levels. Though teachers and administrators worked tirelessly to create as normal of a year as possible, many kids have fallen behind. Now many schools are looking to help students regain what was lost before heading into a new school year this fall.

Most schools recognized early on that the 2020-2021 academic year would be negatively affected by the pandemic and quickly began assessing the future needs of their students. Teresita Nieves, principal at Orange County Preparatory Academy, recalls, “As soon as the lockdown began, we knew we were going to have to start planning what we would need to do for the following year in order to target the areas of skill loss that our students might have.”

This summer, the school is offering a six-week learning program, three days a week, in which certified teachers review reading and math with students in need of extra support, as well as special education and ESL students. Nieves explains, “At the start of the program, students were given a pre-test in order for us to know what specific skills to target. At the end of the six weeks, there will be a post-program exam that should provide more information to parents about where their children stand academically and greatly help teachers of the upcoming school year to know what areas they may still need to address.”

For students whose schools are not offering any additional academic support this summer, there are still ways for them to catch up if they have fallen behind. One-on-on tutoring is a convenient option for many students as the program is catered to their individual needs.

Group of elementary school kids running at school, back view

“I believe most teachers would agree that it was nearly impossible to cover as much material as they would have hoped due to the struggles of adapting to hybrid and online teaching,” says Dennis Freeman, director of In-Home Tutors Orlando. “For online learning students, there were many obstacles, including technological issues and the lack of immediate face-to-face feedback. In-Home Tutors Orlando can help simply by providing tutors to work with children at any grade level this summer to review the material they should have learned this year and help plug any skills gaps. Our tutors will wear masks but we will come to the home. Many kids relate so much better to a tutor when they are face to face.”


Silence Bourn, youth services librarian at the Orange County Library System (OCLS), feels another great option for summer learning is the local public library, which offers a variety of free virtual programs, events and resources for students of all ages. “OCLS has several summer opportunities that focus on helping students to counter any learning backslide,” she says. “One of our more popular programs is ‘Countdown to Kindergarten,’ which is geared toward ages 4-5.  This is a multi-week program which focuses on a different themes and sets of skills each week to help prepare these early learners [for the] transition into kindergarten.” Bourn notes this particular program is a valuable and safe alternative for children who may have missed out on the preschool experience this past year due to the pandemic.

For students ages 6-8, OCLS provides free STEAM kits that can be picked up at any of the 15 branch locations this summer. “Each of these grab-and-go kits blends together a different STEAM subject—science, technology, engineering, art and math—with a classic fairytale or folktale,” Bourn says. “It’s a great way for kids to take a little bit of learning home with them.”

OCLS also offers lots of supplemental materials that are available year-round for all grade levels as well as adults. “There are many user-friendly online programs that can assist with research papers, test preparation, learning a second language and provide online tutoring,” Bourn says. All of these offerings and resources are free with an OCLS library card.


Looking Ahead to the Fall

This past spring, many school districts in Central Florida announced that they will not be offering a hybrid learning option for the upcoming school year. Guidelines have not yet been determined as to what COVID protocols will be in place, but most teachers and students are eager to return to school in the fall.

“As we approach the 2021-22 school year, we are truly looking forward to welcoming everyone back to campus,” says Lake Mary Preparatory Middle School Principal Amy Petrousky. “As we move away from hybrid teaching, our faculty is thrilled to welcome all students back to face-to-face learning. We are also excited to welcome our families back to the school-wide events that highlight the athletic and artistic talents of our students.”

Safety will continue to be of the utmost importance, Petrousky notes. “We anticipate being able to update many of the COVID protocols that were put in place last year to protect our LMP community. As the CDC releases new guidelines this summer, we will use those recommendations to determine how to update our policies to keep everyone safe, healthy and engaged in learning.”

The return to school may feel a bit strange to those students who haven’t been on campus for over a year. School administrators are already preparing for how to help those students readapt to school life. “We certainly anticipate a reculturalization for the students, teachers and the community,” says Dr. Mitchell Salerno, head of school for Windermere Prep. “However, we have long been focused on well-being; it’s incorporated into our program. Therefore, we feel strongly that this will be a natural adjustment for everyone.”

Orange County Preparatory Academy Principal Teresita Nieves believes that support of the district is a key element of the students’ success next school year. “OCPS (Orange County Public Schools) is wonderful at providing support to our schools, particularly in the area of mental health,” she says. “During the darkest days of the pandemic, we were able to get counseling for struggling students. We will continue to use these services next year as we understand that this isn’t like flipping a switch. These students will be going through an adjustment period, but I think they are all excited to be coming back.”

Even though the upcoming school year will no doubt have some lingering social and academic challenges from last year, students of all grade levels have already shown how resilient they truly are. With the support of their schools, administrators, teachers, parents and caregivers, the 2021-2022 school year will hopefully bring about a time of great achievements for all.