The 2020-2021 school year began amid tremendous uncertainty. The previous school year had ended in chaos and upheaval. Schools, teacher’s unions, and state and local governments were unable to negotiate a workable solution by the time the fall semester had started. Now, in 2021, students are faced with a once unimaginable predicament: nearly an entire school year gone and a year’s worth of learning pretty much lost.
In fall of 2020, it was difficult for parents and educators to fully understand this situation. It seemed that a workable solution was going to be found for our students. It was nearly impossible to plan ahead amid the constant revisions in school openings and closures or to anticipate the scale of this crisis. For students, this uncertainty came at a heavy cost. Not only in terms of their academic development, but also in their emotional, social, and psychological well-being. A national survey found nearly a third of high students reported feeling depressed or unhappy; over half felt uncertainty.
These effects were not just limited to American students. Studies in Europe chronicled changes such as difficulty in concentrating and sleeping as well as a marked decline in physical activity. In China, schoolchildren reported a rise in anxiety.
The good news is that experts are beginning to express optimism about getting the pandemic under control. We see a steady rise in vaccinations and a decline of more than 70% of new COVID infections in the United States. California schools, while continuing to work through various challenges and concerns, are feeling the pressure to reopen due to new legislation signed by Governor Newsom that comes with a significant financial incentive.
Parents may well feel a sense of hope in these measures and look forward to the return of normalcy for their struggling students. Many are concerned, however, about the irrevocable losses that their students suffered during this time. There has been a very real decline in academic learning, with students experiencing, on average, 5-9 months of learning loss, according to a Time Magazine report. Middle school students in particular have not had the ability to develop the logical thinking skills that mark their transition from elementary school or to advance the rhetorical skills needed to communicate these developing ideas. They have not had the exposure to those activities that correlate with these all-important skills, including speech and debate (logic and rhetoric), competition math (word problems and problem solving), and robotics (coding and building).
There are also less quantifiable issues that are a direct result of virtual or partially-virtual learning, such as the inability to focus, decline in stamina, development of bad habits, loss of interest in prior activities, and a lack of exposure to the kind of learning opportunities that help students find their academic passions and thrive intellectually.
Of course, at this stage in the pandemic recovery, it is important that parents remain understanding of their students’ situation. For some students, the need for emotional well-being is the most important priority on their path to future success. Other students, however, can benefit from a more strategic approach to mitigating pandemic learning loss, finding opportunities, discovering or recovering passions and interests, and turning the challenges of this pandemic into the chance to embark on a life pathway.
For more information, you are invited to participate in a series of webinars on related topics, including:
- How Middle School Students Can Get a Head Start (March)
- Minimizing Learning Loss and Pandemic Effects Among Middle Schoolers (April)
- High Impact Activities for Middle School Students (April)