Navigating Remote Learning — A Guide for Guardians

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Urban Initiatives’ mission is to empower Chicago’s youth to become community leaders through academic success, healthy living, and social-emotional learning.  Urban Initiatives approaches this mission by engaging youth through sport and play. With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing Chicago Public Schools to transition to remote learning; the Center for Disease Control and Prevention encouraging social distancing; and, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s motto encouraging youth to “stay home, save lives”, Urban Initiatives has pivoted our approach, not our mission. Yet, even in this crisis, our staff is demonstrating its impact and commitment to Chicago’s youth and its organizational values: Urban Initiatives staff is taking the initiative and working together to provide fun, inclusive virtual learning opportunities for Chicago’s youth.

It’s no surprise that engaging youth strictly through virtual platforms is new to Urban Initiatives. As an organization whose strength in success derives from positive relationship building, this is an opportunity for Urban Initiatives to explore the e-learning environment to provide engaging learning experiences for students when they are at home.

What is Remote Learning?

As schools across the country transition from the physical classroom to virtual learning platforms, you may have heard of the following terminology: e-learning, online learning, remote learning, virtual learning, and distance learning. What is the difference between these terms? In short, there are conflicting views on the terminology, but the approach to instruction can help illustrate the components of the learning environment.1

On March 30th, Chicago Public Schools announced an updated Pre-K-12 remote learning plan in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency. This plan includes a remote learning guide for parents. This guide, based on definitions by the Illinois School Board of Education  (ISBE), distinguishes the mode of learning between e-learning (digital) and remote learning (digital and non-digital). As Urban Initiatives approaches remote learning, parents and guardians can find online opportunities for youth to learn from UI coaches through digital modes of learning. 

How Do I Navigate Remote Learning?

Monitoring and regulating students’ actions and behaviors in these virtual learning environments can be challenging for parents and guardians who are unfamiliar with navigating this virtual space. Here are some select tips from CPS Remote Learning Guidance from Parents:

  • Create a daily routine so your child always knows when it will be time to focus on learning.
  • Have your children set academic and social and emotional goals prior to engaging in learning. For example, ask them, What do you plan to work on today? How can I support you?
  • Keep device screens within your view and monitor screens when children are working online to ensure they are actively engaged.
  • Allow your child to take a movement or sensory break every 30-60 minutes.
  • Once your child is done working for the day, ask them to reflect. For example, ask them What did you learn today? What did you accomplish today? What did you find challenging today?

As schools across Chicago prepare a remote learning plan to share with parents through April 6th, there are a variety of interactive, online platforms that children might have access to. Urban Initiatives will be posting short videos on its Facebook and YouTube profile that youth can access to learn more about topics like the importance of play, goal setting and stress management.

Why is Remote Learning Important?

Continued Learning

In some studies of K-12 online learning, online learning was found to have a modest advantage over traditional classroom instruction.2 Remote learning can be seen as more conducive to an expansion of learning than classroom instruction. 

Urban Initiatives content can be seen as an extension of the learning that has been conducted when schools were in session. In addition to academics, there are other benefits to remote learning, including positive youth development, physical, social, and mental health. 

Positive Youth Development

According to, positive youth development is a combination of positive experiences, positive relationships, and positive environments. Adults, especially parents and guardians, play an important role in the positive development of youth. Research from the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development shows that committed, caring adults are an important asset to adolescent development of the 5 C’s – competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring.


These adults can include mentors such as coaches or teachers.

Urban Initiatives connects youth with coaches all across schools in Chicago, and will continue to promote positive youth development by continuing to engage youth with coaches through remote learning. 

Social-Emotional Health

In an earlier post this month by Chalkbeat, administration at e-learning program pilot schools were interviewed to ask about their opinions about the possible transition to e-learning across all schools. At one of the state’s pilot programs for e-learning, Gurnee Elementary School District 56, superintendent Colleen Pacatte stated that e-learning is “beneficial because we’re reaching in and checking on kids throughout the day and we’re giving them constructive things to work with while they’re home alone, possibly…We’ve had kids reach out to teachers when they were feeling uncomfortable or afraid because they were home alone”. 

Recognizing that everyone’s situation is different, Urban Initiatives will be reaching out to parents to communicate information about this new approach and inviting parents, if able, to participate with their children during these virtual interactions.

Physical Health

Although contact sports may be frowned upon during this time of social distancing, people are finding creative ways to stay active. In a recent post by the Aspen Institute’s Project Play, virtual training apps have exploded over the past several weeks. Research has also shown that play is learning: children learn cognitive skills such as creativity, problem solving, divergent thinking, mathematics, and language.4. Physical play can boost physical development, promote healthy lifestyles, and even help children perform better in school.

Urban Initiatives will be using Techne Football, an app developed by former U.S. women’s national team player Yael Averbuch to engage youth in weekly challenges. Plus, our online content on our YouTube and Facebook pages will include opportunities for youth to get up, get active, and play. 

How is Urban Initiatives Approaching Remote Learning?

Public Content

Urban Initiatives will be posting weekly Empower Session videos on its YouTube and Facebook channels that will cover different benefits and activities related to the power of play. Take a look at our first week’s video where Coach Eugene talks about playing for fun and well-being!


Urban Initiatives will continue engaging with its current participants in virtual huddles and conversations across virtual platforms, including Facebook Live. Families in the Take the Lead and Coach for Success program should expect to receive communication about these opportunities during this time.


Urban Initiatives will continue collecting information about the effectiveness of remote learning through student and parent feedback. This will be great for measuring the impact of this programming effort in order to evaluate the success of this model, and improve similar program offerings in the future. 

Looking Forward

As a long-time partner with Chicago Public Schools, Urban Initiatives is looking forward to reconnecting in-person with students and families in communities across Chicago when this crisis is concluded. Urban Initiatives is excited about offering youth fun opportunities to continue engaging with and learning from coaches, and connecting families to relevant resources during this time. This is a learning experiment for everyone, and we hope to learn from this experience so we can become a stronger organization when this public health crisis is over. Take care everyone!   

Additional Resources



Positive Youth Development

  1. Moore, J. L., Dickson-Deane, C., & Galyen, K. (2011). e-Learning, online learning, and distance learning environments: Are they the same?. The Internet and Higher Education, 14(2), 129-135.
  2. Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., Bakia, M., & Jones, K. (2009). Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: A meta-analysis and review of online learning studies.
  3. Bowers, E. P., Johnson, S.K., Warren, D. J.A, Tirrell, J. M., Lerner, J. V. (2015). Youth-adult relationships and Positive Youth Development. In E. P. Bowers, G. J. Geldhof, S. K. Johnson, R. M. Hershberg, L. J. Hilliard, J. V. Lerner, & R. M. Lerner (Eds.), Promoting positive youth development: Bridging the gaps between research, practice, and policy. New York: Springer.
  4. White, R. E. (2012). The power of play: A research summary on play and learning. Rochester: Minnesota Children’s Museum.

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