Educational psychology expert weighs-in on sending students back to class

If you’re still debating whether you should be sending your children back to the classroom next month or keeping them home to learn virtually, you’re not alone. 

“It’s a rough situation, right? Mentally and literally, it’s just a hard, hard call,” Michelle Tichy told FOX 35 News.  "Some kids are doing okay right now, some kids are finding their way in all of this and others are really scared. Anxiety levels are high." 

She would know she teaches at the University of Central Florida and Rollins College. Not only does she have her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, but she is also the mother of a kindergartener and a high school student.

Tichy says only you know the right decision for your family.  She recommends first taking into account the health of everyone in your household.  Then start thinking about what things look like at home and what your family and your children will be working with for instruction.  She says the age of your child also plays a big factor.  Children of different ages have different capabilities. 

Things to keep in mind for early elementary school-aged children is, “those age kids, for a lot of reasons, need to go back face-to-face, because virtual learning doesn’t work for them, but we also have to understand that we are introducing a lot more germs,” Tichy said. 

She is still trying to wrap her head around if she’ll be sending her son into school for kindergarten. For now, she’s been having him take walks with her around their neighborhood so he can practice wearing his mask in different conditions and for different lengths of time. 

For students in grades 3 and higher, Tichy says it’s important to get their input for the upcoming school year.

“They’re going to be able to tell you if they felt comfortable learning online. If so, let’s take those options a little more serious. Because in the short term that’s the easiest from the child’s perspective. It will lower their anxiety if they already feel comfortable in a virtual space,” Tichy said.

At this point, she says she’s likely going to have her 16-year-old do distance learning for at least the first semester. 

“I’m ok if my 16-year-old decides to go all virtual for the whole fall because I know that she can handle that, that she has the social skills to maintain her friendship through Zoom and other social media,” Tichy said. 

She said it’s important to keep up with their friends, even if they can only do it through technology.  She says her daughter also did well when the district was forced to switch to distance learning in the spring.  That’s something she feels parents need to take an honest look at when making their decision. 

“There are parents who have very bright kids who didn’t do any of their work from March to May and if those kids are telling you I need to go back to school to have the structure to do my work, and all other variables allow you to do this, then ok, send them back to brick and mortar,” Tichy said. 

One more factor to consider according to Tichy is your child’s mental well-being and how they’re handling the pandemic. 

“If a kid is anxious about and not feeling comfortable about going to school and wearing a mask, are they going to be successful?” FOX 35 asked Tichy.   “Probably not. I think we’d be asking too much of them,” she said. “Just go with what feels right  for your family and if you have four children, you may have four different answers.”

Tichy has had some many folks reach out to her seeking advice on how to make the right decision, she’s holding a webinar to answer questions.