Jewish Atlanta Says Return to Class a Must
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Jewish Atlanta Says Return to Class a Must

Parents, counselors and a teacher stress the benefits of in-person instruction.

Irina Schwartz with two of her children, Jacob and Lenni.
Irina Schwartz with two of her children, Jacob and Lenni.

As we inch closer to the beginning of a new school year, many Jewish Atlanta parents and teachers are considering what it means to return to the classroom.

If the past 1 ½ years has taught anything about the ways children learn, it’s that there is more than one way to deliver educational content effectively. Yet some Atlanta parents differ in their views on whether schooling remotely is right for their children, as opposed to attending school in-person.

In the Atlanta area, most public-school districts and private schools are offering in-person instruction for the upcoming academic year. However, a remote option is also possible, and some schools are asking parents to make a semester-long commitment either way.

Some parents and teachers interviewed for this article agreed that returning to face-to-face instruction is crucial. “I believe that it is vital for students to return to in-school learning for a multitude of reasons that are not solely based on academics,” said Amy Horowitz Sheridan, a fourth-grade teacher. “The social-emotional well-being of many students has been compromised by home-based learning.”

Sheridan further explained that she spoke daily with students who felt disconnected and unable to socialize with their peers. “It was heartbreaking to witness these struggles,” she lamented.

Jane Sandler is the mother of two in Alpharetta.

Elaborating further on the challenges of keeping kids in the remote-learning mode, Irina Schwartz, mother of three in Dunwoody, shared her family’s experience. “The struggle has been real for kids studying in a virtual environment and completely missing out on social interactions. This includes being able to read people’s facial expressions and understanding nonverbal cues.”

Schwartz’s youngest son, who is in daycare, has been especially impacted by the negative effects of the mask-wearing and virtual protocols, experiencing significant speech delays. “The inability to read and see faces and mouths moving,” she expounded, “really hindered his ability to pick up language.”

One of the concerns parents expressed to the AJT is how to make the transition back to school smooth, especially for those children who have not attended in-person classrooms in over a year.

Ula Zusman, child and adolescent clinician at Jewish Family & Career Services, said “parents can help normalize both the anxiety and the excitement in-person attendance may evoke.”

Zusman suggested reintroducing children to their social scene by allowing them to reacquaint themselves with their friends during the summer.

In most Atlanta public schools, going back to school this year will be different from last year because teachers will be focusing solely on their in-person students, instead of splitting their attention between in-person and virtual.

Students who choose to continue in the virtual environment will have an entirely different teacher dedicated solely to them too.

Ula Zusman is a clinician at Jewish Family & Career Service.

“I do think returning to school is a positive,” says Janie Hortman, a staff associate therapist at The Summit Counseling Center in Johns Creek. “I feel that kids thrive with routines. I also think some children pay better attention while being in the room with the teacher versus at home with distractions. Furthermore, allowing children to get out of the house will be healthy for the family unit.”

According to a McKinsey & Company report, released in March, the majority of teachers polled said that the remote learning experienced over the past year is a poor substitute for being back in the classroom.

Jane Sandler, the mother of two in Alpharetta, has a similar view. She said that while she appreciated the opportunity to keep her children at home during a raging pandemic, and all the fear that accompanied it, she wants them to return in-person to the classroom. “Having a full social life, developing interpersonal skills, and making new friends [in the school building] is just as vital as education for our children. Now is the time to go back to school,” she said

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