These days, there are many questions running through parents’ minds. Some of the biggest ones are centered around the re-opening. We have divided these questions (and some answers!) into the biggest areas:

Online or In-Person School?

Parents ask – should I let my child continue with online school? If so, where is a good local Austin online program they can enroll in?

If you end up choosing online education for the fall, and have a high school student in Austin, then we recommend checking out the University of Texas at Austin. They have a UT High School program that is currently celebrating 21 years of online education. They offer online school to all residents of Texas. You can enroll here. And, the best part is: it’s free. It’s completely online and a full course schedule. The program is funded by the great state of Texas.

There are just a few things you need to supply as the parent:

  • personal computer
  • reliable internet access
  • graphing calculator – this is important for most high school mathematics courses

Masks or No-Masks?

Should I send my child back to in-person education? Should they be wearing a mask? Will other students be masking?

This depends on the rules at your school and also on personal preference. Some families want to wait and see how COVID-19 evolves before they let their child go mask-less. But still others say they don’t believe in masks. One thing is for certain: the data overwhelmingly shows that masking reduces the spread of COVID-19. But we understand many families concern. Masking is really uncomfortable and many young kids are struggling with mental health issues due in part to social isolation – and likely the increase alienation and isolation of mask wearing itself. It’s harder to be social, make friends, and read facial expressions when everyone has a mask covering their face. It can be distracting and hard to learn. That’s why we think this is largely a matter of personal preference. You and your family has to weigh the costs and benefits.

It’s also important to think about and try to protect others. We are all Americans. And we are all in this thing together. Even if your family doesn’t have any serious illnesses in the family, that might not be the case for everyone. Some other kiddos parents might have cancer or diabetes. If you are concerned about them, then it might make sense to have your children wear a mask at school — in an effort to keep everyone safe. But we get it. I probably wouldn’t want my children to have to go through the burden of wearing masks at school. These are really tough and difficult times. If you want, you can always send us an email and we’d be happy to help try and think of a good solution of your and your family.

How can our Austin family make peace with all the uncertainty?

School years are supposed to be a time or renewal. A time when students get new shoes and load up on pens and pencils for the year. It is usually a time of hope and renewed faith. But this year many families are struggling to cope with the uncertainty of it all. The delta variant has complicated matters. Parents are worried about how safe school is right now. And students are worried about their social lives and their health. Many kids and students aren’t fully vaccinated—and some families have chosen to forego vaccination all-together.

There seems to be some generally good guidelines for kids these days … however politics and partisanship have clouded the issue. The simple advice is this: yes, your student should probably head back to school. They should wear a mask inside. And they should be vaccinated as soon as they can.

How can I help my children cope with their anxiety about returning to in-person school?

One thing you should encourage in your children is mental flexibility. A NYT article discussed this concept. The idea is based on research showing that people with higher levels of mental flexibility have fared better during the pandemic. Ok—you might say—that sounds great, but what the heck is “mental flexibility?” The idea is to take a more easy and “chill” approach to dealing with your thoughts & emotions. Don’t try to control them. Don’t get stressed about your own thinking. It’s fundamentally a meditative approach. You aren’t trying to control your thoughts. And, therefore, you aren’t allowing your thoughts to control you.

The idea is to encourage awareness over judgement. For example, let’s say you or your kiddo is having some intrusive thoughts constantly popping into their mind: “I’m sad” or “I’m worried.” Instead of getting mad at themselves for these thoughts, you can encourage their mental dialogue to immediately respond with: “Oh, that’s interesting. Just had that “sad thought” again.” Just note it. There it is again. Do you feel how there is less attachment with this?

If your kiddo is still struggling, we recommend trying some local Austin pediatric therapy or counseling centers. Here are a few we like:

Should I enroll my student in kindergarten?

Research shows that there has been a massive exodus out of kindergarten. Great reporting from the New York Times has shown that many school districts lost 20 percent or more of their students. Kindergarten is a time when kids are supposed to learn the fundamentals. But many families question how important it really is. That being said, the biggest decreases in kindergarten attendance were from the poorest neighborhoods and school districts.

Many parents have asked: what about virtual kindergarten? This is a fair question. But a significant body of research from Stanford has shown incredibly poor educational outcomes and results from online kindergartens. These kids may have learned how to operate a computer… but they didn’t improve their math & reading skills. Students who attended an online charter school suffered dramatically lower math & reading levels. And for students who attended an in-person charter school, their reading skills did improve at a somewhat similar rate to that of a traditional public school – but their mathematics did not. Their math skills really suffered. We might be a little biased here at Math Tutor Austin, but we believe that math is the single most important and fundamental skill that any student can master—whether you’re in kindergarten or college.

General Resources:

We really like the work of Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, MD. She is a medical doctor, practicing psychiatrist, and frequent contributor to the New York Times. She wrote this great article about how to handle anxiety about back-to-school decisions.

References:

Kashdan T.B., Rottenberg J. Psychological flexibility as a fundamental aspect of health. Clinical Psychology Review. 2010;30(7):865–878. doi: 10.1016/J.CPR.2010.03.001.