A push to be away: A desire for more student-centered policies

In effect of Payton’s Weekly Schedule, Chicago Public School’s administration gave revised guidelines for asynchronous learning on Wednesday, establishing mandatory check-in time for students and teachers to connect supplemented by 30 minutes of independent work time to create eight, 45-minute blocks. While the intention behind the policy may be to facilitate more communication, understanding, and camaraderie between peers and their educators as well as add more structure to an already chaotic situation, the implementation of such measures lacks understanding of the paramount need of students: to limit screen time. Looking back to a time where the thought of an online high school, middle school or, more consequentially, kindergarten, was a fantasy, the amount of time spent on a computer, phone or playing an online game was considerably less and even if a person was writing on a Google Document for an hour straight, doing so was set within a larger and authentically collaborative setting. While independent, screen time becomes less interrupted and far more immersive. Even those two-minute breaks to talk to classmates, supported by the 20-20-20 rule; telling those on screens to look 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes, made all the difference in fostering a healthier work environment, if not a more creative and representative one.

In a system yearning for a silver lining, like the accelerating call realizing the dire need to reckon with inequity, disparity, and oppression within our country and around the globe, another one can be the importance of health in physical and mental manifestations. Facing a state of triangular crisis, all have been compelled by their own troubles or understanding of their absence of hardship to become more empathic, meaningful creatures. A crude irony is built from the reality of constructing remoteness to maximize the health and wellbeing of the students when at times it feels like each additional 15 minutes on live camera drains the energy out of the most enthusiastic and fruitful students. Through the pursuit of even greater screen time to the already high duration worth of google meetings system-wide, leaving 180 to about 380 minutes worth of synchronous time, CPS today delivered reform slightly tone-deaf response to the ambient rhetoric surrounding the implications of remote learning. While acknowledging that ¨all-remote learning is a real challenge for everybody involved, not the least of which the students and the parents,¨ she moved forward with reopening bars that do not sell food for all indoor dining, a move that Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey criticized as “increased socialization [which] could cause a sharper spike, which would make it more difficult to reopen school buildings.” and its particular deprioritization of the people suffering the most from lack of opportunity: predominantly socioeconomically disadvantaged Black and Brown Students, Diverse Learners and students studying English as a second language. Shown by the rise of cases in multiple states and the compounding deficits of remoteness experienced by vulnerable students, such a concern that the move would stagnant and reverse progress is not one without merit. That is a reality virtually no one wants to live with. 

All of this is to say that the city and CPS administration must account greater for the needs of the children than present in the status quo. A safe return, though potentially not experienced in the second quarter, must be the paramount objective framing for all negotiations of quarantine leniency both ethically and economically, as educational attainment is the best indicator of multidisciplinary- and especially financial- development. Contextualizing the reality put forth by officials, stakeholders must author solutions that maximize student gain whilst mitigating the discernable diversity of the difficulty of remote learning. A recommendation from CPS leadership to minimize homework, and thereby additional screen time, is a good step, yet reform methodology should not exclusively consider what can be done about the breadth of teaching and instead, even more optimizing the way educators do so.

At Payton, we are fortunate that administration deeply cares about each pillar of the student experience, proven by its envelope-pushing initial structure of having asynchronous days every other Wednesday, alternating with Seminar days, but we at the Paw Print believe that creative formatting should not have been a district novelty. Instead, more argumentation around the possibility of greatly limited screen time built into typical scheduling should be discussed in earnest. 

Rather, in order to reduce the strenuousness, fatigue, and distractions of elongated live instruction time, schools should adopt asynchronous time into their pre-existing curriculum framework. The National Board of Professional Teaching Standards advised between one and four hours of digital instruction daily, and CPS has beyond exceeded those statues. Moreover, in Payton’s schedule, independent Wednesdays should be reintegrated and repurposed into the blue-orange weekly saga to act as a rest stop to complete homework while not having to spend eight hours on camera as well as to allow us to get out, take a walk, and partially become immersed into a world forever changed.

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