By Ameera Steward
For the Birmingham Times
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed lives around the world and here at home. Last month, Birmingham City Schools (BCS) announced that the first nine weeks of the 2020–2021 academic year will be done remotely in light of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, a decision that will have a significant impact on BCS families. The Birmingham Times asked one parent how he is preparing for this unprecedented school year, which starts on September 8.
Tyrone Silmon; daughter, Abigail Silmon, 10, fifth grade, Phillips Academy
Birmingham Times: How is this year different for your family?
Silmon: “Well, it’s different primarily because obviously it’s a new normal. [Abigail] is spending time getting ready for the first day of school with summer enrichment activities, so she doesn’t have the summer slope, [otherwise known as the summer slide, when students lose some of the knowledge, skills, and ability they acquired during the school year]. She has been reading books and doing a lot of the normal things she’s done in times past. What she isn’t getting, however, is a lot of the social activities and the camaraderie, the day-to-day participation, extracurricular events, and activities. So, from a social standpoint, it’s definitely a change. It’s different, but [her mother, Tangy, and I] have to be a little more creative and selective about what we participate in to keep her safe. [Abigail] understands why we can’t do a lot of what we’ve done in times past … because of the state of the world with the coronavirus.”
How do you think a lack of social activities affects children?
“Children need engagement. They need social activities [because they] learn a lot of things by interacting with their peers. They need exercise, from a physical standpoint. … From a learning mindset, I think, children also need a group setting in which they are with their peers and the educational process is happening.”
How are you approaching first nine weeks of remote learning?
“[Tangy and I] are making sure [Abigail] is connected through all the resources we have in our home, … all the tools she needs to gain access via the internet. That’s kind of our approach. [Also], with the summer enrichment and daily activities, we’ve been trying to get ahead and get her used to this type of learning, so when school begins in a few weeks, it won’t be altogether new to her. She’s had some time reading and some time on the computer researching and doing assignments through the summer, so she’s a little bit more ahead of the curve.”
What kind of technology does Abigail have?
“She uses a laptop, a desktop, an iPad Mini, a cellphone, and a Chromebook. … We’re blessed to have all of what is needed. … She always has had electronics [because] we’ve always thought it was important to have her be familiar with electronics, computers, and things like that. … I always saw, even prior to COVID-19, that our educational system was headed in that direction. I’ve been a huge advocate for pushing the school district and school systems to move [toward using more technology]. … I don’t want to say, ‘Thank God for COVID,’ but I do think there is some good. … If we can say there’s some good, I think [it’s good that] kids will be forced to be engaged with electronics and the computer aspects of the educational system.”
How will remote/virtual learning impact your family?
“I don’t see that it will affect [our family]. … We believe in getting things done through the whole process. We asked a lot of questions [of school officials], and we just continue on until we give what is demanded of us. I do understand that [some parents and children] don’t understand or really know how to operate and follow on a computer, so it can, in some cases, I think, be a detriment. … It’s going to be different for a lot of children, and I can definitely see that some children probably will drop off. It is my prayer and hope that they won’t.”
What about your work schedule for your family?
“Abigail’s always been fortunate enough to have two parents with flexible schedules. … [Mom, Tangy, has a job in the banking industry and works from home; Tyrone works from his home office in sales.] We just made the adjustments. … When Abigail was in school, if one of us couldn’t get to the school for a lecture, the other would go, and vice versa; we’re there for all of the school trips, … the auditorium assemblies. We’ll take the same approach at home. When there are questions or when there are things that are needed, we’ll just take turns, we’ll free ourselves up. … Based on our household, based on our strengths and weaknesses, we assist Abigail as needed.”
You talk about the importance of technology and parental support, what else is needed to help students advance?
“I would like to see a systematic approach … for those children that need extra tutoring. I think we need to have locations where children can go, maybe once or a [few] times a week, to get assistance, not just from the home but through the local churches, … the community centers. We need some ways to have tutors ready to work with children virtually [and] have those incorporated into the learning process.”
Would you like to add anything?
“We’re all in this together. There are a couple of ideas and things I would love to see happen … as the schools are constantly fighting to get up and running. I really think this is a perfect opportunity for assistance, not just from a local level but from the state and national levels. It’s going to take the entire community to get us through … this—and that includes … setting up programs, creating pre- and post-childcare opportunities, getting the community involved, turning to corporate entities. It’s my prayer and my hope that we all can kind of come together and incorporate community activities to assist a lot of our lower-income communities because I think children in those areas will feel the greatest impact, … have that summer slope, and be a little behind. … Not all kids have had opportunities to become familiar with computers, and neither have many of their parents. We’re dealing with a lot of moving pieces, and it is my hope that our community understands that and can help these children so we can educate them.”
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