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Letter: Ensure student experience the center of school reopening plans

The Detroit News

Like most parents, I have spent considerable time weighing the advantages and disadvantages of the school choices presented for the fall.

School systems vary but our school, Plymouth Canton Community Schools, recently switched to start virtually and parents scrambled to review two choices: Virtual Academy (all virtual) or a Safe Start option, that would begin virtually but shift to in-person as safety allowed.

Parents spent a considerable amount of time debating the best choice for their children.

High school and middle school students were mandated to wear the mask the entire time in school, Kempf writes.

On the favorable side of the Virtual Academy, parents discussed things like wearing masks. High school and middle school students were mandated to wear the mask the entire time in school. One mom recounted, “If I hate wearing the mask for a grocery store visit, surely a school week won’t work.”

Others argued that an online learning environment would help their children focus. There were no other kids in the class to distract or take away from learning, and some kids seemed to do better. There were no assignments to forget at school, and if done correctly, online learning could give parents a better view into keeping their children organized.

Then there were parents opposed to all virtual learning, who longed for in-person instruction.

This brought up a whole of other things to think about. Would the experience be similar to the emergency response encountered in the spring as COVID hit? Could social distancing be enforced? What would things look like if COVID hit the high school and sent everything back to virtual?

As I reviewed the information and listened to parents on both sides of the debate, I realized that something was missing: the student experience. Parents were trying desperately to connect the plans and actions of the school system with what their child would experience.

Michigan's schools and parents should use design thinking: a problem-solving framework that focuses on human-centered design. What it does better than any other problem-solving methodology is the relentless focus on the user through empathy. The user in the problem of how best to go back to school is the student.

Through empathy maps, personas, and “to be” scenarios, solutions should be developed around the student. We need to take into account what the student is thinking and feeling as well as their motivations.

As we transition to a COVID-induced student learning experience, we should all use design thinking to ensure the student remains at the heart of any school solution.

Laura Kempf, Plymouth