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Our pandemic back-to-school supply list

Pencils, pens, highlighters, paper, folders: Normally around this time of year, parents and kids would be stocking up on school supplies and scrambling to ge...

Posted: Aug 13, 2020 1:52 PM
Updated: Aug 13, 2020 4:45 PM

Pencils, pens, highlighters, paper, folders: Normally around this time of year, parents and kids would be stocking up on school supplies and scrambling to get ready to return to the classroom.

This year, however, is anything but normal.

In this year of the pandemic, schools and school districts in much of the country are kicking off the year with virtual education, a continuation of (and hopefully improvement upon) some of the remote learning capabilities rolled out in the immediate aftermath of shelter-in-place orders this spring.

Elsewhere, in states such as Texas and Florida, schools are reopening with new rules and regulations — protocols that embrace social distancing yet seriously transform day-to-day experiences for students.

To be clear, stark socioeconomic differences across the country mean that different families have vastly different needs for supplies — some kids need nothing more than headphones to listen to virtual classes on Zoom, while others require basic Wi-Fi, pens and a quiet space in a crowded apartment to work. Still, the needs are real.

We interviewed parents, teachers and administrators for insights about which supplies would be most helpful to the greatest number of kids given the current reality of pandemic-era education in America. Here are some of their suggestions.

The basics

While Covid-19 has changed the way we socialize, recreate and dine out of the house, it hasn't changed the most basic list of stuff kids need to do school right.

This means parents should stock up on staples such as pens, pencils, crayons, markers, paper, erasers and scissors — both for kids who will be learning from home and for those who will be learning from school.

Ashley Fry, a sixth grade math teacher at West Jackson Middle School in Hoschton, Georgia, recommended that kids who will attend any in-real-life instruction should keep these items in a washable pouch. She knows that sharing likely won't be allowed.

'Middle schoolers are known for forgetting supplies, which is normally fine because they just borrow from each other or from their teacher,' she said. 'Now, however, it will be potentially dangerous to do so with the current pandemic going on.'

The new basics

Two other must-haves for school in 2020: hand sanitizer and face coverings.

While these items are more important for students attending school outside the home, they're important for virtual learners, too, since these kids will spend parts of their days out and about.

Students should buy or make 10 to 15 masks they are comfortable wearing, Fry recommended, so they can have two or three face coverings available every day. That's because masks can get sweaty or dirty, and kids need to have a backup mask, just in case.

'Having (multiple) masks will make it so parents don't have to wash masks each evening,' Fry said.

Mask insurance

Having masks is one thing; making sure they don't fall off is another. This is particularly an issue for little kids — the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that children 2 and older wear masks in settings where it's difficult to practice social distancing.

Lanyards or other cords to keep masks around a child's neck are good solutions to this problem, said Elizabeth Goldman, a fourth grade teacher at Jackson Avenue School in Mineola, New York.

'(A lanyard) keeps the mask close enough and affords easy access in case of any sudden social distance deviation, which is guaranteed with children,' Goldman wrote via text message. 'It also prevents the mask from falling on the floor and getting dirty, in addition to keeping the mask within (the child's) personal space.'

Parents can even leverage the opportunity to spark creativity, Goldman added.

'I would imagine the mask lanyard could also be a means for easing kids' anxieties about wearing masks; they could be decorative and personalized, which basically makes any item fun,' she said.

Confirming connectivity

With a significant amount of learning happening online, it's important for students to be able to access the internet from home. This makes connectivity — reliable Wi-Fi or hard-wired Ethernet — a necessity.

The problem? Not all students in America have access to the internet outside of school.

One in five parents said it was likely that their child or children would have to use public Wi-Fi to complete classwork because they didn't have reliable connectivity at home, according to an April 2020 survey by Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C.

The findings were even more salient for lower-income parents, who reported that 40% of their kids would have to use public Wi-Fi, said Monica Anderson, Pew's associate director of research.

'Unfortunately, even in 2020, internet is not a given for everyone,' said Anderson, who noted that more than 4,900 respondents participated in the survey.

To solve this dilemma, many schools and school districts are doling out Wi-Fi hotspots to families in need or setting up makeshift access points at various positions in the community. Other institutions are leveraging technologies that would enable students to complete schoolwork on smartphones over the cellular network.

One device per child

Still other schools and school districts are focusing on the devices themselves, equipping students with mobile devices that also are critically important to putting students in the best position to succeed.

Many schools and school districts have programs through which they provide a device to every student for free. Some, however, do not. Lori Lyn is a second grade teacher at Hicks Elementary School in Houston, where every child gets a laptop. She noted that families of students who don't receive free devices from their schools should try everything possible to obtain one for each child to use as his or her own.

Devices such as Kindles, smartphones and many tablets simply don't have the computing power necessary for virtual education, Lyn added.

'We don't want them to be sharing with parents or amongst each other,' Lyn explained. 'As difficult as it might be for some families to manage, if you're a family with four kids, it's crucial that each kid has their own device.'

Tune in by tuning out

Another item that many teachers consider to be a must-have for the coming school year: headphones.

Particularly for students who must endure at least another semester of virtual learning, these tools will enable kids to log on to class sessions, tune out distractions and focus on the lessons at hand.

Mark Kirlough, who teaches engineering at Lower Richland High School in Hopkins, South Carolina, said the headphones don't have to be expensive, so long as they work with the requisite devices and get loud enough to tune out other sounds.

'If you have siblings or if your parents are home working, distractions can be a real problem,' he said. 'No matter what the situation is in a student's house, (headphones) are one way to help them focus.'

A place to work

Families with enough space and resources also may want to consider getting each child a desk.

For Las Vegas resident Stacy Hamilton, a single mother in Las Vegas, this was priority No. 1 for the summer. In the spring, when the city's schools shut down, she set up a work area for her 12-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son at the kitchen table. Hamilton, who was working from home, used the same spot as her office.

In July, Hamilton purchased a stand-alone desk for her son. She said she plans to put it and a desk for her daughter in a separate room that will effectively become their classroom until they can return to their respective schools.

'I wanted to get something that was functional for the current moment but could then get moved to his room so he can use it for years to come,' she said.

List the day

Parents said another strategy for putting at-home learners in a position to succeed is by listing the daily schedule and objectives on a whiteboard or flip-chart paper that is easily visible from wherever students plan to complete their work.

Jill Murphy, a resident of Sonoma County, California, said she deployed this strategy in the spring, and it gave everyone in her family the opportunity to get on the same page about how each day would go.

'We all need to be on the same page regarding when math or humanities Zoom classes are starting versus when we've agreed on video games or outdoor time,' said Murphy, who has a 12-year-old son. 'Otherwise it's a constant negotiation, particularly when both parents are working and trading off as remote school 'supervisors.''

Murphy added that her plan for the fall is to buy a whiteboard to hang in the corner of the family room.

Air purifier

Finally, some parents said they are considering purchasing air purifiers to help protect their kids while they learn from home during the coming school year.

These devices work to remove most contaminants from the air in a room.

While none of the tools have been proven to eliminate coronavirus, many of them have received positive ratings from the US Environmental Protection Agency, and work to improve overall air quality by a significant percent.

For Dana Freeman, who lives in Burlington, Vermont, any improvement to the air her kids breathe is worth the investment.

'I'm just trying to do everything I can to help protect my kids,' said Freeman, who purchased one purifier for each of her children to take to their respective college apartments. 'If a portable air purifier helps to keep the air in their rooms a little cleaner, then I am all for it.'

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 248189

Reported Deaths: 5411
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto16841171
Hinds15890312
Harrison13037191
Rankin10439205
Jackson10128177
Lee8721135
Madison8071160
Jones6166108
Forrest5870117
Lauderdale5724177
Lowndes5238109
Lafayette486192
Lamar475363
Washington4734122
Bolivar3941106
Oktibbeha388179
Panola360475
Pontotoc358752
Monroe3487103
Warren337895
Union337457
Marshall336065
Neshoba3325150
Pearl River319492
Leflore2980104
Lincoln293385
Sunflower277569
Tate266659
Alcorn260651
Itawamba258858
Pike258176
Hancock253557
Prentiss242450
Scott241043
Yazoo237754
Copiah237449
Tippah236246
Simpson232367
Leake227864
Coahoma223154
Grenada215770
Covington208871
Marion206171
Adams201666
Winston198061
George197438
Wayne196130
Attala191658
Newton186542
Chickasaw181243
Tishomingo179659
Holmes167867
Jasper165134
Clay156732
Stone140218
Tallahatchie138234
Clarke136460
Calhoun133321
Smith118823
Yalobusha113834
Walthall111136
Noxubee109622
Greene108929
Montgomery108134
Carroll103721
Lawrence101217
Perry99131
Amite96425
Webster90624
Claiborne85125
Tunica84521
Jefferson Davis83825
Humphreys81524
Benton80323
Kemper75720
Quitman6758
Franklin65315
Choctaw59613
Wilkinson58125
Jefferson53019
Sharkey42417
Issaquena1586
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 417528

Reported Deaths: 6030
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson61313888
Mobile29768542
Madison26637185
Tuscaloosa20580268
Montgomery18696304
Shelby18310113
Baldwin16002179
Lee12261101
Morgan12093112
Etowah11604157
Calhoun10982200
Marshall10108107
Houston8474129
Cullman7960104
Limestone790174
Elmore7723101
DeKalb764697
St. Clair7460120
Lauderdale745183
Talladega6102108
Walker5852174
Jackson574441
Blount526483
Colbert525670
Autauga510355
Coffee434256
Dale391081
Franklin363445
Chilton333565
Covington326167
Russell323810
Escambia312442
Dallas300296
Clarke278233
Chambers277869
Tallapoosa2599107
Pike245829
Marion240549
Lawrence240447
Winston223835
Bibb213047
Geneva197431
Marengo197329
Pickens195231
Hale173742
Barbour171236
Butler167958
Fayette166026
Cherokee159630
Henry151119
Monroe144417
Randolph138535
Washington136526
Clay125246
Crenshaw118044
Lamar116619
Cleburne116023
Macon113335
Lowndes108735
Wilcox101221
Bullock98128
Perry95419
Conecuh92920
Sumter88726
Greene75323
Coosa60414
Choctaw51224
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