As campuses across the country gear up for fall semester, uncertainty looms with COVID-19 cases once again on the rise. Witnessing the toll that remote education has had on many students throughout the pandemic, school administrators hope to prevent further learning loss and provide additional mental health support.
However, educators face continuing challenges. Increasing infection rates have led many back to hybrid learning models, forcing them to prepare for another school year of both online and in-person engagement.
Months of isolation and physical separation from school as a result of the pandemic has had a significant impact on K-12 students in particular. Stanford University researchers estimate that K-12 enrollment dropped by roughly 1.1 million students last year due to the unavailability of in-person learning.
As a result of dropping enrollment, learning loss increased. A recent report released by McKinsey & Company determined that over 800,000 elementary age students in the U.S. are behind in both math and reading scores. Although many schools utilized federal funds for summer programs to improve test scores, educators worry that many students are still too far behind.
A study conducted at Northwestern University found a significant rise in the percentage of school-aged children who reported loneliness as a result of remote learning during the pandemic. Prior to school closures, only 3.6% of children were reported to exhibit signs of loneliness. Afterward, that number grew to 31.9%.
The pandemic also impacted college-aged students. Over half of the 35,000 first-year college students polled by the annual Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement reported an increase in mental and emotional exhaustion. The ongoing survey, which continues through mid-September, also found increases of depression and decreases in optimism overall.
As institutions attempt to boost mental health support for students in need, many are finding the process to be more difficult than anticipated. A new survey conducted by the American School District Panel found that 75% of participating district leaders are in the process of hiring mental health personnel. However, many schools are experiencing difficulty recruiting new hires due to competition amongst other counseling programs and nationwide staffing shortages.
A survey of over 1,200 educators conducted by the Education Week Research Center found that the number of districts adopting hybrid learning models increased 10% over the past month due to the climbing number of positive COVID-19 cases.
Data from the survey also suggests that remote education and hybrid learning models are less common in districts serving more affluent populations. Statistical data from the previous school year shows that non-white minority students were often more negatively impacted by the move toward remote learning and less likely to enroll in fulltime in-person instruction when it once again became available.
Despite numerous states now facing a record-breaking amount of daily COVID-19 cases, many schools across the country are determined to resume in-person learning five days a week. This push toward physical in-person learning is partially attributed to national teachers’ unions like The American Federation of Teachers who allocated $5 million toward various back-to-school campaigns in 30 different states.
Further debates regarding the optimal learning conditions for students in the coming school year center on mask-mandates and vaccination rates. While some teachers express feelings of increased safety and optimism having now been vaccinated, many K-12 educators worry about the health of their students. As the delta variant spreads across the nation, an increasing amount of school-aged children have fallen ill to the virus and vaccines for children under 12 are potentially months in the making.
Regardless of what lies ahead, today’s educators are better prepared for online instruction than ever before. The collective and collaborative innovations of educators and the institutions they are a part of helped to sustain student learning throughout the pandemic, online and in-person. School administrative teams throughout America adapted to an ever-changing educational environment. They learned new technologies and new softwares to better support their students.
As institutions assess how best to invest funds allocated through the American Rescue Plan, ConexED ensures continual student support regardless of whether institutions opt for in-person, online, or blended learning models.
Using the ConexED student services directory, interactive whiteboard, case management, and numerous forms of video and chat messaging, schools can provide continual mental health support and prevent further learning loss.