Opinion: Keep students engaged during COVID-19

Mark S. Lee

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the remaining weeks of this school year. As each municipality across Michigan rolls out localized plans for its students, the challenge is maximizing learning opportunities for everyone. Effectively preparing students for the upcoming academic year is of paramount importance in these unprecedented times

The emphasis now is on online learning, but it's difficult to provide consistent and equitable educational opportunities online when not every student has internet access.

"The importance of education and where possible gaps exist will be magnified over the course of the next 10 weeks," says Eric Brown, co-CEO of Michigan Reading and Math Performance (MI-RAMP), a newly formed nonprofit. 

"I would have liked to have seen the learning be consistent across the board," Brown says. "But in talking to parents with school-aged kids, that is not the case."

This is an empty classroom at West Bloomfield High School on Friday, March 13, 2020. Students were asked to stay home, while educators used Friday to prepared to to teach students online due as a coronavirus precaution.

Brown also says there are disparities when it comes to public and private educational opportunities and geographic dispersion, whether urban, suburban or rural.

Brown raises several questions which he believes need to be addressed across all school districts as parents home school and look for online tools to help their students engage with teachers:

► Are there consistent criteria in place to ensure that education will be equitable?

► How are we to ensure student commitment to participating in the 10-week distance learning process?

► Will there be any assistance, particularly in urban settings, provided to parents and/or guardians to help ensure students are being properly taught?

Since the stay-at-home order, I have talked to parents about how they and their students are adjusting to learning outside the classroom. Some have more formalized plans at home, while others are much more lenient.

Each situation varies; each family's approach is unique.

Brown urges parents and educators to battle student complacency. Bench-marking data only works in a classroom setting, he says, and since it's been nearly a month since distance learning kicked-off across Michigan, he fears inertia may have set in by now.

Schools should develop lesson plans focused on student engagement while parents should do their part and implement these plans with discipline and rigor.

This process requires ongoing teacher, parental and student engagement. It also requires encouragement from the community at-large, even if others don't have children in the school system.

Brown suggests the state look at a mid-August start date for the upcoming academic year. Too much time away from the classroom is a detriment, and Michigan students can't afford to fall further behind, he says.

In addition, he suggests the state launch a public service campaign with consistent messages focused on the importance of education while students are away from the classroom.

Stay home, stay safe and stay engaged with your children.

Mark S. Lee is founder, president & CEO of The LEE Group, and can be heard “In the Conference Room,” Sundays at 11 a.m. on 910 AM. You can listen to “Small Talk with Mark S. Lee” podcasts at leegroupinnovation.com.