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The importance of keeping our K-12 Schools open

Researchers at the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard found that a child’s most important educational experience occurs before the age of six. By then, 90% of their brain development will have occurred. At that age, they are developing more than one million neural connections each second, trillions of neural pathways every 24 hours.

During this time children are developing their ability to pay attention, grow their language skills, and learn how to get along with others. Development activities focus around interactions between children, including play! The physical activity involved in play with other students helps students learn how to use both sides of their body referred to as cross-lateral development or “crossing the midline.” Young students engage the right and left brain when they scratch their nose and cross their legs, but also when they read and write. Failure to “cross the midline” at this age and often will lead students to struggle developing basic academic skills.

Students who fail to engage with their peers in “play” are more likely to suffer from anxiety, including motor, and sensory issues. They also struggle to control their emotions, failing to develop their own emotional intelligence. Active “play” both structured and unstructured has proven to pay off later in a child’s life. Students that have been active in play early on have improved academic performance, college completion, earnings, richer relationships, and good mental and physical health.

Studies are showing that young children are the least likely to contract the COVID-19 virus. According to the CDC as of September 30, 2020, students age 1 – 4 years old have experienced 15 deaths nationwide involving COVID-19 compared to 2,233 deaths nationwide in that age group from all causes. Student’s age 5 to 14 years old have experienced 32 deaths since March involving COVID-19 compared to 3,476 deaths nationwide in that age group from all causes. When they do contract the virus, the virus poses minimal health risks. The American Association of Pediatricians, the National Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended that schools reopen, noting the social, emotional, behavioral and academic harm of remaining closed.

The feeling of isolation associated with k-12 school closings to face-to-face education is enhancing the number of students experiencing some level of depression. New CDC data has found that one in five teens across the nation have seriously considered suicide. Bringing students back to face-to-face learning allows them to regularly engage with our education teams and their peers, providing structured learning and routines each day, a proven method to successfully support student’s social and emotional challenges.

As far as students transmitting to teachers or staff, Mark Woolhouse, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh who has studied K-12 schools opening in European countries last spring stated “It is extremely difficult to find any instance in the world…of a child (under 15) transmitting to a teacher in school.”

Schools in the area have implemented extensive mitigation strategies in our buildings to slow the spread of the virus. We recognize there is an inherent risk in contracting the virus, but we also understand the risk of postponing developmental activities for our youth and the long-term consequences that could harm a generation. Health professionals and scientists also are weighing the risks and have arrived at the conclusion we need to send our students to school for face-to-face instruction because it is the right thing to do.

Dr. Steve Patchin is Superintendent of Hancock Public Schools. Programs he has contributed to creating include Mind Trekkers and CareerFEST, helping students explore their talents and associated careers in STEM. His research has focused on increasing development of self-efficacy in individual students.

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