COVID-19: Students Behind in School

More than 64 percent of K through 12 parents said they were somewhat or very concerned about their children falling behind in school. This is according to a new Pew Research Poll where it asked mostly low income parents about what they thought the Coronavirus pandemic was doing to education in the U.S.

In the Miami Valley, there are school administrators, teachers, parents and students who have the same concerns.

"These kids are going though a lot right now. And honestly for a lot of them the important thing is not their schooling, its their health, and their family safety." With her students not in the traditional classroom for the last two months, and summer break approaching, that means more than four months her students will have not been in the traditional classroom setting, Kim Ulrich a third grade teacher at Orchard Park Elementary in Kettering said.

Currently Ulrich and her 18 students doing classwork. They using Chromebooks and Zoom technology to communicate with each other. Kettering schools said it has more than four thousand Chromebooks in students' hands for home, remote learning. "The district has made our job immensely easier," Ulrich said when asked about having the right tools to educate her students. While she is at her home in Springboro, the technology allows her to have daily contact with her students in their homes in Kettering.

"We're just kind of working around the craziness, we have to make it work," Bellbrook mom Jenny Lake said.

Lake has four children and she and her husband are pregnant and with their fifth child. Two of her children, Owen and Olivia are elementary age. When schools closed, the Lake's and parents everywhere suddenly had to become more like educators in the house.

"On day two, I cried" said Lake because she felt like she was not an expert in any of the fields her daughter needed help with. Olivia has down syndrome, and she has an Individualized Education Plan through Bellbrook Sugarcreek Schools.

The district's services meant Olivia had six district employees helping Olivia on everything from physical therapy to occupational therapy. "All of those resources are now essentially gone... I'm not an expert in any of those fields," Lake said.

Lake is still in contact with Olivia's teachers and support staff, but she is now in essence, all those people wrapped up into one in the family's living room turned classroom.

"For Owen, I'm more concerned about the emotional impact," Lake added. "For Olivia, I'm more concerned about the academics."

How students are doing emotionally is just as much of a concern for administrators as academics.

"You worry about all your kids, you aren't able to see them on a daily basis," Fairmont High School's Principal Tyler Alexander said. "I worry about students that were receiving social and emotional support through our building, and we're not able to see them every day and talk with them." Alexander said the district has worked really hard to be in communication with parents to make sure students don't fall through the cracks and get the emotional guidance they need.

The "summer slide" is the term educators use to describe some of the learning lost while students are not in class during the summer. Alexander has concerns with students not physically being in class with their teachers since mid March.

"I think academics will take care of themselves," he said. "We'll get students where they need to be academically."

The Council of Great City Schools can offer perspective. Dayton Public Schools is one of 76 members of a coalition of the nation's largest public systems, dedicated to improving inner city children's education.

"One of the important things about the current situation is school districts have done a wonderful job making the adjustment to distance learning," said Raymond Hart, Director Of Research for the Council of Great City Schools.

Hart said districts who already were using technology in the day to day classroom had an easier transition to distance learning when schools across the country closed. But when asked about districts who have been behind the curve on technology, his organization is pushing the federal government to free up $200 billion in funding to help. It is unclear what sort of funding, if any, could be headed to Ohio schools.

With so much uncertainty with what student learning will look like in the fall, Hart is optimistic.

"Our new normal might look like a new blended, continued distance learning," Hart said

That means maybe some days kids are learning in the traditional classroom, and other days they could be learning from home. But in whatever form Hart believes distance learning is here to stay.

As for Mrs. Ulrich and her third grade class, she is just trying to keep learning going as much as possible.

"And hope we can get back together so we can fill in the gaps and bubbles," Unrich said.

In Bellbrook, as Lake worked with Olivia on identifying the difference between an octagon and a hexagon, she said, "It's not going to be perfect, it's going to be messy, but we will get through it."

Ohio has almost two million students in public schools.

Everyone interviewed for this story talked about how resilient students are, and how they will "bounce back" from what Covid-19 has done to the education model.

Later this week, Gov. Mike DeWine is expected to talk about his vision for our schools in the fall. DeWine has talked before about maybe having hybrid school weeks: two days a week have students physically in the schools.. and the rest of the week online learning.

That creates questions: what would that mean long term for learning and what should parents know.

WHIO tried multiple times to interview State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria to answer those questions. A department spokesperson said DeMaris was too busy, and not available for an interview in time for this story.

Comments on this article