BILLINGS — Parents, students and teachers have seen massive changes to the education system since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, at one month into the school year. Olga Prather, owner of Billings Sylvan Learning Center offered up some tips for student success whether in the classroom or online.
“I think it’s all about the approach. So, if you go into this thinking that this is never going to work, then it is going to be difficult. But what I’m seeing is that we’re adjusting. We’re getting it," Prather told Q2 on Wednesday.
Sylvan Learning Center provides tutoring services to students from kindergarten up to college level. Prather has owned the Billings location for four years.
One out of every eight students in the Billings school district are enrolled in distance learning this year, participating in the entire school day from home via a computer or tablet. Distance learning students across all ages have had challenges forming social relationships with their peers, Prather said.
“Kids are just trying to see how they fit in. I have several high school distance learners who are just missing their friends. We have to remember that sometimes it’s not an option that they’re doing distance learning. They are doing it for the safety of their family members, or something to that effect," Prather said.
It's important for parents to try and provide opportunities however they can, to allow their students some peer-to-peer interaction, Prather said.
"Having the ability to reach out or have that communication with the other peers is something that we really have to make sure is happening. Giving them the opportunity to communicate. Listening to what they are saying because they want to tell us how they feel and we just need to be there to listen to what they are feeling," Prather said.
Students attending in-person classes have experienced changes to the school day like masks, social distancing and restrictions on attending school activities. Everyone has different expectations this year. For young people still learning about the world and their place in it, the shift can be jarring, Prather said.
“There’s different requirements, and that can be taxing on them as humans because its different and kids just want to go to homecoming and go to the games, and we have to keep our community safe. That’s difficult for the kids that are in in-person as well. And figuring out how to manage the masks and keeping social distance to the best of their ability. Everybody has different expectations," Prather said.
After helping students both in-person at the learning center and remotely under the conditions of a pandemic school year, Prather had three tips for students and parents to help them see success.
The first is setting up a schedule. For in-person students, this is easier due to the nature of the school day. For remote students, Prather has seen inconsistent scheduling hold some back.
"Sometimes kids fall behind. They just don’t do it daily. I say again, set a routine. Complete the work as early as possible. Kids do better in the morning, so get the work done in the morning," Prather said.
Besides a schedule, Prather's second tip is to actually complete the work. The idea is to not procrastinate so the student can feel good about the rest of the day.
"Do your work. Don’t put it off. Don’t wait until it’s too late," Prather said.
Prather's third tip is for parents and students to have good communication with their teachers. More communication is better so everyone can be on the same page when it comes to expectations.
"Your teacher or classroom teacher, it’s their job to help and they’re ready to help you. Just communicating with them is a really effective way to be successful in distance learning or in-classroom learning," Prather said.
With everyone adjusting to different styles of school amid COVID-19, Prather said she's confident there have been some lessons learned and successes that educators can take into the future. In particular, she mentioned how access to education and learning help has been widened with the help of technology.
“For Montana, a perfect example is our rural families now have the opportunity to reach out to us in a different way than they did before. I think that this technology and the way we’re approaching education is going to be everlasting, and that’s pretty exciting because we don’t have to do traditional models and we can really do great things. I’m pretty excited about some of the things that are going to come out of this," Prather said.
Prather said the amount of students coming in for tutoring at Sylvan has been consistent with previous years. During this odd pandemic year, the business is seeing students during a wider period of the day.
In previous years, students were more tied down to the 8 a.m. - 3 p.m. school day. With more students now in remote classes, tutors could be seeing students any time from 8 a.m. - 8 p.m., Prather said.
"We’re reaching kids all day long. Traditionally, we have kids that come in the afternoon after school for help, but now we have our distance learners and our schools that are doing distance learning full-time are coming to us for help. That’s really been a change for us," Prather said.