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Children Will Eventually Return To Schools, But Schools Won't Be The Same

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

At some point, classrooms will be full again. Kids will be at their desks. Teachers will be at theirs. Schools may look like they did before the coronavirus, back on track - eventually. In our series that we call Learning Curve, we've been checking in with parents, educators and students to understand how they are handling schooling during a pandemic. And today we have a call for patience. It's from Teresa Thayer Snyder. She's the former superintendent of Voorheesville School District in upstate New York. She's retired now, and she joins us.

Welcome.

TERESA THAYER SNYDER: Well, thank you very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your district has been doing both remote and hybrid instruction, like many districts in the country. What are your concerns for when schools return to in-person learning full time?

THAYER SNYDER: I think my biggest concern is that we're going to be very caught up in what we're considering for lost time, and we're going to be working very hard to catch the children up to where we think they should be. And I really fear that because I really believe that we have to greet them where they are and understand that they haven't stopped growing in this last year of a pandemic. They've been growing maybe not with traditional school curriculum, but certainly, they've been growing and maturing and thinking. And I believe that when we reenter schools, we need to celebrate that and welcome them back.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Explain to me what you mean by sort of looking at the way that they've grown in other ways. And how do you incorporate that into this traditional learning environment?

THAYER SNYDER: I think we welcome children back and understand that they have a voice and that their voices need to be heard. And we'll learn a great deal about what they've experienced and how they've dealt with the pandemic. I've had a lot of people tell me, well, that'll work fine with suburban kids or kids who are, you know, all right. But with the kids who are in poverty situations, they're going to be really far behind. And I think that's very unfair because I believe the children who live in poverty situations have very compelling stories to tell. We give them outlets for expressing themselves. I think we're going to be a lot better off than if we go right back to, oh, my gosh, you know, they have to get back to their worksheets and their workbooks and our standardized testing schema.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Give me an example of what you imagine would be a way to do that.

THAYER SNYDER: Well, I'd imagine a lot of project work. And one of the first projects that I would recommend is an art space project using multiple media and create perhaps a quote or a montage of what their experiences have been and have that be a touchstone for the rest of my year of going back to it and saying, gee, look what we did, you know, when this happened. Look how we dealt with lost. Many of our children will be coming back, having lost people who are very dear to them and very important to them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, obviously, being a former superintendent, that there are benchmarks that children have to meet in this country in order to be considered on track. Those are important benchmarks not only for educators, but for parents, too. So how does what you're proposing fit into that concept of how school is supposed to proceed?

THAYER SNYDER: The benchmarks I don't worry about that much because they don't predict future success to me. How a child performs on a given day on a given exam or given assessment or benchmark reporting doesn't necessarily tell me who they are or what they think or how they think.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In some cases, mandated testing has been suspended during the pandemic. Would you continue that suspension? And if so, for how long?

THAYER SNYDER: Well, if I had my way, we would be rethinking this - the whole process of testing and the whole methodology, which is an extremely expensive proposition to begin with. And I'm not certain that it predicts anything at all. I was once on a television show on our local station up here in upstate New York with a former commissioner. We had got into a bit of a tussle over that because he was saying how, you know, the Common Core and the testing - and this was all so important and was going to get kids college-ready. And my argument is we don't have any evidence that's making children college-ready.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I guess my final question is this - you know, I have a daughter. She has really been struggling throughout this pandemic, as have many children, with social isolation, with fear. What do you hope happens on the other side of this pandemic? What do you hope we understand about the school experience for our children?

THAYER SNYDER: I would hope that it would be a place where children would rather be than any place else. I have a 13-year-old granddaughter who was a straight-A student. And in the first quarter, she just plummeted. And I said to her, you know, it isn't normal for an eighth-grader to be learning in isolation. And even with all the drama of middle school that we all remember and we all know very well, that's also part of human growth and development. And I also think that the curriculum will take care of itself. There are children in many places in the world where a curriculum has been interrupted. And yet when they came back to a school setting, they've been fine. They've thrived, and they've managed to achieve. I think that sometimes we underestimate the capacity of the human child.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Teresa Thayer Snyder is the former superintendent of Voorheesville Schools in upstate New York.

Thank you very much.

THAYER SNYDER: My pleasure. Thank you very much for the opportunity to chat. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.