New Hampshire parents and teachers are now more than a month into what can only be described as the strangest school year in New Hampshire history and I think that all of you deserve a round of applause for making it this far!

Luckily for me, my son is now fully grown (he is entering into graduate school this year), so my husband and I have not experienced many of the headaches that I’ve heard from parents about the “new normal” school year.

However, as a Bedford town councilor and state Senate candidate, I have kept a sharp eye on any developments to come from this grand experiment and have learned quite a bit already. If there is one good that can come out of this COVID-affected school year it is that we are being forced to reimagine everything that we thought we knew about how education is delivered and have the opportunity to make big changes and improvements for everyone!

One major development that has immediately jumped out at me is how we are really starting to appreciate that not all children learn the same. Obviously, we’ve known this for a long time, but watching how well some students take to remote learning, or changes to in-school learning, while others struggle has been informative.

If the goal of our education system is to teach students and prepare individuals to be productive, well-rounded members of our society, then we must realize that achieving this will take different means for different students. We do not all learn the same way, and that’s OK.
Recognizing this, I believe we should have an education system that gives parents choice and gives students opportunities. This means allowing parents the ability to find the best means to educate their child and not allowing ZIP-codes or economic ability to restrict families when making these decisions. If one system, style, or curriculum does not work for a child, then making the proper changes to help that student learn should be a priority.

Take for example a child with autism. He or she may need some additional help with aspects of his or her education, but may excel in others. The parents know best and sticking such a student into a one-size-fits-all program is often not the best answer. We need to teach to each child’s ability.

Different forms of education do this in different ways and sometimes more effectively. We need public servants who recognize the complexities of education, how learning should be a very individual endeavor, and how empowering families is something that should always be promoted in the Granite State.

Additionally, the pandemic has reinforced something else that we already knew. We absolutely need to expand broadband capacity to our rural communities.

Even once remote learning is no longer the norm for most students, the need for reliable, high-speed internet is never going to go away. We have all of human history’s knowledge at our fingertips, as well as the ability to connect with others on all parts of the globe, yet some students have greater access than others just because of where they live. That is unacceptable and needs to be reconciled immediately.

Beyond providing greater choice and new opportunities for our students, our state also needs to put a new focus on student safety. Over the past several years cyberbullying has become a major issue in our schools, especially with the rise of social media.

Increased reliance on remote learning and more internet time for our kids has only accelerated this problem. There has been some progress on this issue in our state’s legislature, but unfortunately, politics continue to get in the way of making real progress.

It seems silly to me to play politics with such important issues, but here we are. I chose to run for the state Senate because I believe that I can bridge the gaps on these issues as I have done in Bedford and do so without a disparaging attitude toward my opposition, but with respect to all hardworking New Hampshire families that are looking for an advocate that cares more about solutions than politics. Working together we can get through this, and we will get through this.

Denise Ricciardi is Vice Chair of the Bedford Town Council and the Republican candidate for State Senate in District 9.

This op-ed appeared in the Union Leader on October 16, 2020.