For a while, things have been returning back to normal, albeit a “new normal.” Due to COVID-19, most students did not have in-person instruction last year, and most of those who did only returned part-time with mask mandates in place.
Now, we are weeks into a new school year. The hopes were to once again resume universal in-person learning, but the uncertainty of the delta variant is closing schools again. The goal, despite delta, is to still to make the return to in-person instruction sustainable.
Before we talk about strategies for navigating this school year, it is important for us, as educators, to keep in mind the impact that the pandemic has had on its youngest victims, regardless of whether they were directly impacted by COVID itself: our students.
Studies show that 25% of households have a child who had preventative services missed or delayed due to the pandemic. These services include important treatments, procedures, and health screenings.
Parental stress during this time, due to lack of job opportunities or the pandemic itself, has had a negative effect on our students’ well-being and overall health.
Due to schools being closed, many lower-income students did not receive proper nutrition and social services.
The isolation of students has led to dramatic spike of mental health issues among students, some of which has resulted in suicide, all while mental health services were in decline.
What can Idaho educators do to bridge pandemic gap?
So what can we do, as educators, to bridge the gap that the pandemic has caused?
The U.S. Department of Education has provided some guidelines in this area including a “Return to School Roadmap” with three landmarks, “to make sure that every student has the support and opportunities they need to heal, learn, and grow.”
Let’s take a look at these landmarks. Let’s discuss how each educator can do their part to give students a healthy and supportive environment in which they can succeed.
Landmark 1: Prioritize the health and safety of students, school personnel, and families
On the surface, this seems an impossible task for an individual teacher to accomplish. We do not make the rules regarding mask mandates or vaccinations. Despite that, however, there are things that we can do to make a difference:
- Make sure mask mandates and social distancing are enforced in our individual classrooms for the health and safety of all.
- Encourage parents and students to get the vaccine and provide the information they need to do so.
- Communicate frequently with students, parents, and families to assure them that their children will be safe in an in-person learning environment.
By doing these things, we are doing our part to provide the students in our care with a safe, in-person environment which students and parents can feel confident about.
Landmark 2: Build school communities and support students’ social, emotional, and mental health
During this pandemic, minority students in disadvantaged neighborhoods have suffered the most from school closures. But all students have suffered a blow due to isolation and lack of community. Ways that you, as an individual, can help bridge the gap, include the following:
- Get to know your students and let them know that you are a source of strength as well as a dependable resource during these stressful times.
- Every day, assess your students’ social, emotional, and mental health needs and refer them for assistance as necessary.
- Provide a nurturing, caring environment for your students in an environment in which they feel as though they belong.
- If possible, provide extracurricular or after school activities for students. This will enhance their sense of community as well as their emotional development.
Show students that you care. Provide that sense of community that has been lacking for over a year. You, as an educator, can have a tremendous impact on your students.
Landmark 3: Accelerate academic achievement
Many students lost a full year of instruction during the pandemic, and what has been commonly called the “Summer Slide” is extremely evident among many of them. Not only did students learn less during the school shutdowns, but they may have lost as much as two years of academic skills and knowledge during their time away. This must be addressed, and there is no better place to proceed than in the classroom:
- This is no time for students to be disengaged in the learning process. Spark their interest as much as possible.
- If available, use virtual reality and other “high-tech” methods to engage students in new ways.
- Attend workshops and in-service sessions to develop your creativity and help you develop new teaching methods.
- Communicate with families in addition to the students themselves to show them that you are concerned with academic progress and you will do all that you can to bridge the gap created from lost academic time.
By doing these things, you can make a difference in your students’ academic and emotional progress this school year. You can also keep your students and yourself safe during this unprecedented time.