Navigating Pandemic Learning Loss

By Dani Ryckman Ed. M.
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As an educator and a parent to two school-age children, the issue of learning loss in relation to the pandemic we are experiencing is especially near and dear to my heart. For the first time, I have a front-row seat in my two daughters’ classrooms, and it is hard for me to remain just an audience member! Sometimes I’m ready to throw the towel in on parenting from the embarrassment of my children’s behavior and sometimes I am crying inside watching two very talented teachers I respect highly, flail in the face of the virtual classroom.  

Supporting Student Success 

I want to state for the record that I have an extremely high level of respect for public school educators, however, in full transparency, I do not hold the same reverence for the traditional school model which often occurs to me as relying on antiquated approaches to supporting student success. For a long time, I had been searching for a school model that truly honored the individual student. Part of what drew me to Fusion Academy a little over nine years ago was the way that the relationship-based approach and customized education ensured that every student was set up to develop a love for learning. To really foster a passion for learning, a student must be engaged, seen, encouraged, and supported.  

When I look at my children’s teachers, I see two professionals with incredible expertise, who care deeply for their students and are no doubt dedicated to every student’s success. The challenge is not my children’s teachers, it’s that my kids feel unseen and have trouble staying focused sitting in front of a screen for hours. It is really challenging for their teachers to notice when any of the 25 students need support, let alone my individual children.  

At least once a day I listen to my youngest daughter lamenting over how her teacher never calls on her and most days I catch my older daughter playing games or daydreaming when she should be listening to the lesson. Then, there is me. I work full time, 8-12-hour days, running a school from home. I cannot micromanage my children’s school experience even if I wanted to because I am working. It is hard for me to not to get lost spinning in the fear of everything my kids are missing out on and how this will show up in the years to come.  

The Joy of Learning 

My biggest fear for both my children, with regards to their education, is that they will develop a distaste for school and stop finding enjoyment in learning. I am already battling the pull of technology on my children and a fear of how that might impact their social development. I also fear for their creativity as it always came best to me when I was bored. When this happened, I went outside to explore or disappeared in the exciting adventures of Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys or the Secret Garden! My kids don’t have the same moments of boredom. Right now, I find myself clinging to anything that does not cause my child to resent school. This is particularly challenging as I fight the daily battle of “Come on girls! It’s time to log on!” or “Have you done your homework yet?” Maybe you are fighting similar battles. 

I have one daughter who one might call a “typical” learner/student (whatever that means) and another who struggles with clinical anxiety as well as ADHD. Both my girls have been asking me a lot of questions as of late about our family’s safety, the safety and wellbeing of people of color in our country, when things will be normal again so they can hang out with their friends or sleep over at grandma’s house again, and so on. It’s heartbreaking and I see the toll it is taking on their minds as well as on their hearts. They are grieving. My husband and I are grieving. We are all grieving.  

Focus on the Bigger Picture 

At this point, my main focus is on my children’s well-being and the well-being of our family overall. Every day I pick my battles wisely and sometimes pieces of their school responsibilities lose despite my constant attempt to support them in staying academically on track. I ask myself what toll will needing to catch up academically take compared to the toll resenting school will take? It’s vitally important, from my perspective, that parents take a step back and consider the larger picture for their children who are struggling with school in the virtual realm right now. This will not last forever. I do not want this time in our lives to break my children or my family. I do not want it to break yours either. 

By no means do I mean to suggest that I have given up. I assure you that I fight the good fight daily along with you and all the parents out there! The challenge, as I see it, is that we as a society are so married to this idea that time is always running out and there is only one way to be successful. As I have experienced many different school models and support systems in my 15+ years as a professional educator, I have come to see clearly that we do not have to forcefully stuff our square pegs into round holes and there is more than one way to get to any destination! No school is right for every child, there is no one approach that will guarantee success for every student and every child develops on their own schedule.  

There is Hope 

So, all of this said, I know that these days, many of us parents are finding ourselves feeling immensely tired, scared, frustrated and confused. But what is the real risk regarding learning loss for our children right now? Well, if you ask me, it’s losing their spark and their love for learning. They can catch up, but what will it take if we must reignite their spark? There are ways we can support our children to combat learning loss during this time without burning out and there are options for our children if their current school situations are not meeting their needs whether in times of pandemic or any other time. There is hope. 

We need our village right now so if any of this resonates for you, please watch the webinar below featuring me and my colleague, Josh Huihui. We talk about how we can support our children during these difficult times along with how we can recognize and combat pandemic learning loss. You are not alone. 

 


About the Author

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Dani Ryckman Ed. M. is the Head of School at Fusion Academy Pasadena. She has been a respected member of the Fusion Education Group (FEG) team for over 9 years.  She first joined FEG in 2010 when she pioneered the opening of Fusion Academy, Los Gatos as their founding Head of School where she helped build the new school into one of the most successful Fusion schools in the nation.  She then went on to join Barnstable Academy (Fusion’s sister school in Oakland, NJ) as their Head of School where she successfully created and implemented new cutting-edge programming to help support Barnstable Academy’s growth.

Dani first found Fusion when she was working as a Program Specialist in a non-public, Special Education school through attending a Coffee Chat event in 2010 on the newly opened Fusion Pasadena campus. Needless to say, she is now thrilled to be returning to her roots in Pasadena where she first fell in love with Fusion. Dani is passionate about supporting parents and working with students who struggle in the traditional school model.
She worked as a school administrator for over 15 years on the East and West Coasts. She earned her Master of Education (Ed.M.) from Harvard University. Her undergraduate work was completed at California State University, Northridge where she majored in Child and Adolescent Development with a minor in Psychology. She credits much of her success working with students who learn differently to her personal education background and studies which have focused on education, development, and psychology. Dani also studied music for three years at Citrus College where she had the incredible opportunity to travel around the world performing classical music in Europe and pop/rock music in Hawaii. Dani led workshops at multiple international conferences focused on blending music into the work that professionals do with children living in out-of-home care around the world. Dani has two beautiful little girls who are 7 and 10 (going on 16!) as well as a wonderful husband that performs a mean karaoke version of “Love Shack” with her. She may deny it, but at one point they were a husband/wife karaoke hosting duo in restaurants throughout Southern California!

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