Haring Center

October 21, 2020

Inclusion in Online Learning: the Experimental Education Unit

As online learning rapidly became the ‘new normal’ this year, the Haring Center stepped up to ensure inclusion was at the forefront. The Haring Center’s Framework for Online Support comprises a tiered system, at the base of which is ensuring support for families’ basic needs, and moves up through managing behaviors, developing curricula and monitoring progress to adapt as necessary. Each of the Haring Center’s three teams is working from this framework to promote inclusive online learning through its integrated model of research, training and demonstration.

In mid-March, like many schools, the EEU found itself needing to rapidly pivot from an accustomed in-person teaching model to the unfamiliar territory of virtual instruction.

Now, after a summer spent strategizing based on new knowledge and lessons learned from providing emergency childcare in the spring, EEU staff and families are greeting a new school year.

“We learned this spring there are many things you can’t teach online in preschool,” says Chris Matsumoto, EEU principal and Haring Center assistant director. “This is enhanced when it comes to a student with special needs, and even more when it comes to a student with special needs and limited family resources.”

This month, the EEU welcomed preschoolers and kindergarteners with and without disabilities to school twice a week. Students learn in two distinct groups, with each student attending in-person school either Mondays and Tuesdays or Thursdays and Fridays. This design also means fewer children per classroom, in turn allowing for more space, increased cleaning, and smaller groups for eating and play. There is an ongoing option for all students to elect to learn entirely remotely. The Infant and Toddler Program remains exclusively remote due to the challenges of physical distancing with such a young age group.

Matsumoto explains that EEU teachers will be planning for online learning and in-person learning simultaneously, as a result. He expects teachers to increase planning and resource sharing across classrooms, which will save significant time.

“For example, if a teacher designs an activity and records a video of that activity, we’ll encourage them to share that across teams so all families can have access,” says Matsumoto.

He also notes that the hybrid model inspires teachers to embrace technology to communicate with families.

“Technology has a great additive nature for education,” says Matsumoto.

As new inequities emerge with the addition of remote learning, the EEU is prioritizing families in need for the most in-person instruction time.

“Our students who qualify for the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program will be able to attend all four in-person instruction days instead of just two,” explains Matsumoto.

Considering family resources for remote learning, the EEU distributed school packs containing art materials to all preschoolers, so teachers can design remote learning activities in which every child can participate. The EEU also received a donation of thirty laptops for families, and has been organizing wireless hotspots to ensure all children can access their remote classrooms. Lastly, staff have been coordinating translations of necessary information into the eleven languages spoken by EEU families this school year.

Matsumoto says the pandemic has shown that the in-person component of early childhood education is truly critical.

“It’s not just about learning to read or write; it’s about helping grow good community members, and that’s very hard to do with exclusively remote learning,” he says. “If we are able to provide in-person instruction safely, we have a responsibility to do so.”

Matsumoto continues, “We have four big things to think about this year: safety, consistency, compassion and equity. Whether we’re talking about in-person or remote learning, if we can retain these in everything we do, it’ll be a good year.”