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Katy Families with Special Needs Students Learn to Adapt to Virtual Learning

KATY MAGAZINE NEWS

September 3, 2020

By Natalie Cook Clark

For some Katy students, virtual school provides an ideal learning environment. Parents with younger children, however, face more obstacles with online learning. These challenges are even more pronounced for Katy families assisting a special needs student.

Lester Rangel works on virtual learning at home. Photo courtesy: Annie Rangel.

Imagine guiding your child through seven or more Zoom sessions a day, plus supervising independently assigned work. Now imagine helping a child with a special need through this kind of schedule, when they require professional services at school. This has become the reality for many Katy families with special needs children that include attention deficit disorder (ADD), autism, and other conditions.


Katy mom Annie Rangel’s son Lester is a kindergartener at Exley Elementary and has a special need.

“My son needs one-on-one time with his teacher and paraprofessional in order to comprehend the materials,” says Annie Rangel. “My background isn’t in special education, so it has been very challenging to keep up with his lessons in a way that he can better understand.”

Most Work, Assistance Falls on Parents

While Katy ISD is doing their best to meet previously assigned services, the assistance at home during this time of learning primarily falls on the parents.

“Unfortunately for my son, he is not developing his full potential via virtual learning, although he sits through his group time and he’s motivated,” says Rangel. “I don’t believe he is progressing the way he should.”

Gretchen Smith’s son is a fourth grader at Alexander Elementary. She also has a daughter in the first grade. She believes that staying organized is the key to making virtual learning work.

“I do believe he is able to learn, but I don't know how well he would learn if I wasn't here to sit with him. He needs a lot of redirection,” says Gretchen Smith. “I can’t imagine this working if I was working.”

Organization, Motivation is Key

Smith said she writes out the kids’ combined schedules on a white board so she can track what they should be doing throughout the day.

“I also made spreadsheets of their schedules, with Zoom times highlighted, and have two downstairs work areas, and their rooms,” says Smith.

Rangel also has ways to keep Lester on track and motivated.

I show him what his schedule looks like each day so that he will know what to expect each day,” says Rangel. “I keep him motivated with timers for when it’s time to see his friends on the computer.”

Smith has requested getting her son’s work for the week ahead of time. She prints the materials and divides them up for what he can do each day.

Smith's son works hard at his work. Photo courtesy: Gretchen Smith


“He has the ability to do the work, so we are working as hard as possible to push him to keep working, pushing to stop the distractions and getting tired (and tired Mommy being his teacher),” says Smith. “I am not patient and have a hard time keeping calm when he takes longer than I believe it should.”

Katy ISD Resumes In-Person Learning Next Week

Katy ISD is scheduled to resume in-person learning next week on September 8, for those families who have opted to return to the schools. This year, families can decide whether to have their students learn in-person or virtually through the District’s Katy Virtual Academy (KVA.) Commitments may be changed with each grading period.

Not an Easy Decision

“We are set to come back on September 8,” says Rangel. “It was not an easy decision to make, but we have been practicing safety measures such as wearing a mask for longer periods of time and washing his hands every hour while we are at home.”

The Smiths also want to eventually return to in-person learning but will continue to monitor the situation.

“We may send our daughter back after the first grading period if things go well with the reopening, but may still keep our son home,” says Smith. “I don’t feel comfortable with him following safety precautions, and I don’t want to risk anyone’s health when we are able to school him at home. I also worry how he will react with new limitations in place during this time. Like not getting to use the playground.”

Like all Katy parents, those with special needs children have had to adjust to this new way of learning. The District is making efforts to offer assistance and keep resource teachers involved.

“His resource teachers have stepped in for major subjects,” says Smith. “We have a relationship with this team, so some of the stress is lowering.”


Smith recommends keeping the communication open with a special needs child's team so that parents can advocate on their behalf.

“There are some activities that we will just not do because I know he will not learn from it,” says Smith. “Do not be afraid to just say, ‘Nope, that's not going to happen here,’ and do what will work.”

Routine and structure are so important to many students with special needs. For Lester Rangel, this was already going to be a challenging year before COVID-19.

“Lester had the same teacher for the past 2.5 years at the Early Education program at a different school, so this year, besides the pandemic, he is dealing with changes of his friends and teachers,” says Rangel.

This is a common thing as the youngest students in the Early Education program often keep their same teacher during those early and important years.

Until life returns to normal and the coronavirus gets under control, many Katy parents will choose to assist their special needs students at home.

“Ask for help,” says Smith. “Trust your instinct and remember that your school wants your child to succeed.”


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