By Dr. Kate Broadman, SMGOR Pediatric Specialist
Recently, Governor Kate Brown, Oregon Department of Education, and the Oregon Health Authority announced changes that will affect how and when school districts across the state can safely reopen, based on COVID-19 cases locally and across the state. Based on these metrics, if school were starting today, Bend-La Pine Schools would not be able to reopen in their physical buildings. Instead, they would be required to provide comprehensive distance learning for all students. The metrics make it easier to resume in-person instruction for students in K-3, but current levels of COVID-19 in Deschutes County still do not meet this threshold. This shift will cause hardships for many families.
Summit Medical Group Oregon’s Pediatric Specialist, Dr. Kate Broadman offers some practical advice for two possible scenarios: classroom and virtual learning. “Being proactive and involved is necessary now more than ever,” says Dr. Broadman. “Many families are understandably feeling overwhelmed but spending the time now to prepare for these changes will go a long way toward a successful school year for our kids.”
VIRTUAL (DISTANCE) LEARNING
A virtual or at-home learning environment can still include many of the supports that a typical classroom provides. In addition to following the curriculum, promoting a balance of physical and emotional health and wellness is key. Check in regularly with how children are feeling physically and emotionally, especially if you notice mood or behavior changes. Make sure they are fueling their bodies with good foods and are balancing their daily education with physical activity and play. Additionally, keep the following in mind:
A Reliable Routine
Routines are important for everyone, but especially kids. Ensure your child wakes up at the same time, gets dressed, and eats breakfast every morning, as if they were going to school.
It’s especially easy for online students to be sedentary. Just 30 minutes of moderate-to-intense aerobic exercise each day (spread throughout the day) can boost kids’ focus and mood. If your child gets more restless as the day goes on, take movement breaks to burn off extra energy. And, ensure they stay hydrated.
Check in on the emotional well-being of your child and create supports for emotional regulation and self-management. Construct separate spaces for children to practice mindfulness, to create, or to reflect in order to best manage impulses and navigate feelings as they arise. Also try to engage in conversations around their feelings. Find ways to help children connect to their friends and family that they are unable to see regularly due to COVID – technology can help with this, but is by no means necessary: there is still something so magical about sending and receiving handwritten notes and cards in the mail.
Online students may be at increased risk for technology-induced health problems due to intensive seated screen time and extended computer use, such as vision problems, headaches, and musculoskeletal problems. Create a comfortable workspace with an ergonomically correct chair. Take quick health breaks every 30 minutes that include stretching the neck, back, legs, shoulders, ankles and wrists. Perhaps most importantly, help them get adequate sleep by turning off all screens at least one hour before bedtime.
“If schools open for in-person learning, we should mitigate the risk of transmission as much as possible to protect students, families, staff and our community,” Dr. Broadman notes. Try to keep the following in mind:
Carefully read all school guidelines and policies ahead of time. Follow all protocols, including temperature checks, self-symptom monitoring, and providing proof of flu vaccination if required by your child’s school.
- If your child takes the bus, follow safety protocols to reduce risk
- If you need to carpool, try to do so with the same families, limit the number of children in the car, and wear masks or face coverings
- Before and after transport, wipe down car handles, seats, and other parts of the car with disinfectant
- Before school reopens, consider having your child test out wearing a mask, gradually increasing the amount of time as they get used to it
- Find a washable, comfortable brand of mask, as well as disposable ones. Don’t depend on the school district to supply them
- Rotate several masks to allow time for washing, and ensure a clean mask is worn every day
- Keep extras on hand, since masks can get lost
- Avoid touching the part of the mask you breathe through; use the straps or ear loops to put on and remove a mask
- Teach and encourage proper handwashing at home so children know how to do it at school
- Keep portable hand sanitizers and wipes on hand
- Clean your hands before and after eating, using the bathroom, touching your mask, and touching potentially contaminated surfaces
After School/Extracurricular Activities
For students who engage in sports or other contact activities:
- Provide disinfectant wipes and a large plastic bag to seal items like cleats and gloves
- Wipe down and leave larger items in trunks of cars overnight
- Wipe down backpacks and any school materials every day
- Consider isolating from elderly and immunocompromised adults for as long as school is in session
- If unable to socially distance from elderly and the immunocompromised, practice good hand hygiene and mask wearing
General Health Maintenance:
- Whether learning takes place in the classroom or virtually, ensure your children are feeling energized, supported, and ready for what’s ahead
- Maintain a vaccination schedule and ensure that you and your children are up to date on all recommended immunizations
- Follow the mask, handwashing, cleaning, and social distancing guidelines during school and social activities