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MSU Today

Breathe and advocate for your children advises WKAR director of education

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Robin Pizzo

Robin Pizzo is Director of Education at WKAR, Michigan State University's NPR and PBS affiliate. Pizzo is an educator with over 20 years of experience in grades K through 12. She leads education outreach efforts and brings workshops, learning tools and other resources into the community to help children become resilient, lifelong learners. 

During the pandemic, Robin has shifted her outreach methods from large scale, in-person events to personalized accessible experiences for parents and kids adjusting to the new reality of at home learning. 

“The pandemic has made families really concerned with whether this will be a lost year or not,” Pizzo says. “Families have to be very flexible and fluid. They have to be okay with not knowing what tomorrow is or what changes may occur in the future as soon as a week from now. And that uncomfortableness can be difficult for families. And you feel as though your children might not receive all of the best that they deserve and should have from the school system to educate them at home in cooperation with your school system and teachers. Families are really wrestling with what this year will look like. And one of my roles and responsibilities as director of education is to give them the confidence and the encouragement that they'll be okay and that they have the skills and the tools to help see their children through this very tumultuous, interesting, trying time.”

Pizzo details how her role has changed during the pandemic. 
 

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“We continue to move forward with our mission to inspire and to educate and to help support our families do the job that they are already doing and encourage them to stay relentless.”

How has the pandemic shaped your perspective as a leader in education, and where do you see this all going? And what are some of the lasting changes in education? 

“It has caused me to feel like I need to continue to be a staunch advocate for inclusive and equitable resources and support for children and families at every level. Socioeconomically, we see that there are some disparities when you have limited access to broadband and wifi or resources within the home even for those children where home may not be the safest place to learn all day. I think that one thing that PBS and WKAR have always done is to provide a safe place for children to learn. When you turn on that TV you're able to watch programming that's encouraging and that continues to teach each child that they have a world of possibility within them. We believe in and support co-viewing with our families so that they are able to teach and learn with their children. That's really, really important.

“I am concerned, however. I was a longtime educator in the Lansing School District. I've taught just about every grade level. I also was a director at Lansing Community College helping families who were trying to get through their programs with young children and supporting them through their programs. And I’ve been an adjunct professor at Davenport. I've educated at every level. I know how difficult that can be to maintain some sanity but also make sure that every student receives the differentiated instruction and care and support that they need to be successful. I need to maintain that advocacy and that commitment to support all families through this and to speak on their behalf.
 

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“And part of the way we do that at WKAR is by being a connector to all of the partners within the system. There are so many partners at Michigan State University and all throughout our region that are working on the behalf of families and children and just making sure that the voices of all children are heard and the needs of all children are met. It's a huge undertaking, but we cannot allow this pandemic to take away from that work.”

What’s your advice for parents at home on how to keep their kids engaged and how to support their child's development in these crazy times? Really, we don't have an end in sight at this point.

“We don't have an end in sight, but my advice is the same advice I give myself sometimes. First, breathe. Sometimes we want everything to be happening that isn't happening and you just need to breathe. And on the days that you need to take a break and your kids need to take a break, take a break and then get back to it. Strategize with your children. Talk to them and ask them what will work. What helps? If we can't do six or seven hours of sitting in front of this screen for you to learn, how can I help you get the best out of this experience? Work with your teachers and continue to advocate on your children's behalf.

“We believe in all our parents and their ability to help support their children. I encourage people to get questions to me at WKAR at robin@wkar.org. Send in your questions. We'll research and we'll connect with partners if I don't have the answer. I definitely just say breathe. It's okay. It's not supposed to look like it did before the pandemic.”

Watch this conversation with Robin on Facebook.

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