Covid Education

How the pandemic has affected education everywhere

Senior Madison Ganzak works on science work during hybrid instruction.

Emily Miklaski

Senior Madison Ganzak works on science work during hybrid instruction.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption of education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries and all continents according to the United Nations (UN.org).
“Our public education system was not built, nor prepared, to cope with a situation like this—we lack the structures to sustain effective teaching and learning during the shutdown and to provide the safety net supports that many children receive in school,” a reporter from Economy Policy Institute (EPI) said.
The closing of schools in March came as a shock to everyone, and the shock continued as it was said that they would remain closed for the rest of the school year.
“Honestly, at first I was really excited about schools being closed; I thought I could just hang out with my friends and do whatever I wanted, and that school would eventually start back up,” senior Madison Cannon said. “And then it was said that school wasn’t going to start back up this year, and I realized that I didn’t know when the next time I would go into the school was.”
After school closings in March and a quarantined summer, the 2020-2021 school year started up with some students going back online, and some schools choosing to allow in-person teaching.
“We started looking at a couple of things. One was some data from the health department, but then there was also the community input,” Superintendent Dr. Catherine Cost said. “And so, I think we really kind of found our way with thinking ‘Let’s be cautious’, which meant starting remotely. I think it was mid-October when we saw numbers kind of sustained, and we felt okay to bring kids back at that point.”
Schools that chose to start in-person learning in September had a larger number of people in the community wanting to send their kids back than people wanting them to stay home.
“They would have looked at that same health department data that we did when making their decision. I think the difference was that their community input was different, and they had louder voices or more voices may be saying ‘we think it’s important to try and get kids into school’,” Cost said. “So, I think it was Gibraltar, Huron, Flat Rock, Riverview, and a couple of others were back at that point; it’s just a difference in the community’s comfort level.”
With students around the world having to adapt to learning through a screen, it is clear that online school is not for everyone, and the number of kids struggling in school has increased significantly forcing schools to adjust grading scales. According to the Detroit Free Press, Ann Arbor public schools will not be giving failing grades; they will be using a credit system for many students.
According to an article published on USAToday.com, a recent Rand Corp study found just 6 in 10 U.S. teachers are assigning letter grades this fall, which is close to double what it was in this past spring. With these letter grades, class failure rates have surged in districts across the country, from Virginia to Hawaii.
Students who are normally towards the top of their class rank are falling behind in some of the easiest classes, simply because the information is being taught to them through the screen.
“I used to barely get a B in some of the hardest classes that I would take,” Cannon said. “Now I’m struggling to maintain B’s in those same classes because everything my teachers are saying feels like it’s going in one ear and out the other because they can’t physically help me learn what they’re teaching us.”
While every age group has its own struggles during this pandemic, college students are not only dealing with a loss of in-person learning, but also a loss of on-campus living and on-campus income.
According to Anne Dennon, a reporter for BestColleges.com, Many students who worked on campus before the pandemic hit are struggling with a loss of income. And those who were planning on on-campus housing being their permanent living situation for the year were forced to put together new plans, with many now facing homelessness.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, children currently enrolled in elementary school are struggling in their own ways; not yet having the attention span or mental capacity for online learning.
“I was in a second-grade Zoom and it was like herding cats. She’d asked a question and a kid would raise his hand and she’d call and he would say ‘Well, I don’t want to answer that question, I want to tell you about my cat’,” Cost said.
Students over the age of ten are able to adapt to the online learning style much easier than those of a younger age. This makes the job of being an elementary school teacher and keeping kids on task through the classes much more difficult than a high school teacher’s job.
“I think it’s definitely harder for elementary parents and elementary teachers than in middle school or high school. You are more independent by nature at those ages, you know when to click on Zooms, you can do it by yourself, you don’t need to have help,” Cost said. “So, I think it’s definitely been harder for younger students while online.”
Along with all students facing their own struggles, educators have also had their fair share of difficulties amid online learning.
Teachers are working hard to fill the learning gaps and are also addressing the social-emotional needs and safety concerns for students as schools are the ultimate checks and balances, but all of these factors are taking an emotional toll on teachers and school staff according to an article published on EPI.
Almost every teacher has had to subtract things from their lesson plan that they would have normally spent at least a month teaching in class due to the fact that they do not have enough time to teach them while online.
“It’s not only being able to cover the same amount of material, but also to go into the same level of depth. I think there’s a big difference in being able to describe something on Zoom with a class rather than being in person, and I think there’s a certain level of knowledge a student can grasp,” Cost said. “The application and the chance of seeing and hearing or working with other students like you would in a classroom means that there’s not the depth of learning that we would have had, and have always had, face to face. So those two components mean that we’ve had to kind of scale back a little bit, and decide what are the most important topics for you to be successful in government or economy; whatever the class might be.”
As conditions start to improve, and the number of covid cases goes down, schools are beginning to open back up. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer put a goal for school districts to have students being back in person by March 1. With these reopenings, there are many things to consider to be able to keep all students, staff, and families safe.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated what they believe schools should be considering, and have chosen four main considerations: promoting behaviors that reduce COVID-19’s spread, maintaining healthy environments, maintaining healthy operations, and preparing for when someone gets sick.
Along with the CDC’s considerations, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently posted a checklist that will support schools reopening, and help them prepare for COVID-19 resurgences or similar public health crises.
Their checklist builds upon existing WHO guidelines and is structured around protective measures related to hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, appropriate social distancing, use of proper masks in schools, consistent environmental cleaning and ventilation, and respecting procedures for isolation of anyone with symptoms.
As for Michigan schools specifically, Governor Whitmer recently spoke out about schools reopening this year and announced a new document with specific information on how to go about sending kids back to the classroom.
“We are no longer supposed to think about what phase or the positivity rates in making a decision. We’re also no longer supposed to say students should be six feet apart; they can be three feet apart,” Cost said. “The other thing is the quarantine period has gone from 14 days to 10 days. Now, I don’t know who may have waved a magic wand, so that all these things can be different, but what that does mean is that we are one step closer to getting back full-time face to face.”
Last spring, COVID-19 caused in-person learning and any other usual activities during that time to be canceled. Events like graduation and prom did not occur as well as homecomings this fall.
“We’re kind of taking a wait and see approach as of now. The vaccine is probably our best hope. You know, if we can get a significant amount of students vaccinated before the end of the year, I think that’s a game-changer right there for sure,” Cost said. “And then that would allow more of the traditional graduations and proms and all those events that were so cherished, to be able to happen this year.”