Since mid-March 2020 1.1 million public school students have been learning at home. Remote learning was a hastily organized response to a crisis. It does not meet the learning needs of students. Planning for the next school year will require reframing and reconceptualizing the classroom. Educators and local leaders must take bold actions and integrate all stakeholders: parents, teachers, nurses, social workers, custodial staff, administrators, and students. Bringing students back to school means creating new learning environments and redefining what a classroom looks, sounds, and feels like.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused upheaval that will result in permanent changes to both public and private education systems. The majority of NYC public school students come from low-income families who rely on schools for education as well as meals, physical and mental healthcare, and safe supportive spaces.
Problem: How can 1.1 million students return to school safely with inevitable state and federal budget cuts?
Solution: Match struggling restaurants with small groups of students who are currently learning from home. Pre-pandemic, Kettle Space created co-working spaces for modern professionals in restaurants that had downtime during the day. Adapting this model, small groups of students and teachers utilize empty restaurant space during the school day to meet face to face in a classroom environment. Restaurants can continue to provide take out and delivery services while small groups use dining space. Restaurants are an ideal environment to meet the CDCs guidelines in reopening schools. Family cohort groups of students will be consistent, the same students and teachers will use the same space, limiting the mixing of groups. Nearby urgent care centers can provide healthcare. The school day ends at 3pm, allowing time for cleaning and prep before the restaurant opens for dinner.
These small classrooms will host cohort groups of students of all ages. Teachers across grade bands will match with groups of families with students in all age groups. Teacher-student ratios are high, often 1 teacher for more than 20 students. Remote or distance learning will continue in a hybrid model. Parents will continue to play a key role in their children’s’ education and will partner with teachers to help students achieve their learning goals. Parents who volunteer will be trained, permission from their employer to miss work 1 day a week, and stipends for their service.
Teaching and learning are rooted in relationships. Families and educators are partners. In person, teachers and classroom staff provide emotional and social checkpoints for students and support for families as they navigate the new world of education.
Winners: Restaurants for increased business during the non-peak hours. Students will have smaller classroom sizes, personalized lessons, and a safe space to socialize with peers. Parents will feel safe knowing their children are close to home, in a safe space, and able to continue to participate in their children's education. Teachers will benefit from this hybrid system as they safely work from home with the option of onsite visits.
Thinkers: Amberle Reyes is a New York City special education teacher trained as a team leader and administrator. Andrea Reyes is an adjunct instructor in both private and public colleges. We are aware of the disruption to public education and want to offer solutions that meet the needs of families, educators, and small businesses.