Pandemic creates social skills gap for students
April 22, 2021
As students return to in-person learning in schools across Wisconsin and are considering their summer school options, many people have mixed feelings about social skills that may have been lost during virtual learning in the beginning of the pandemic. Some parents and educators are worried about future social skills for students while others believe the pandemic year will make students more resilient in the future.
“I truly believe that the students who have experienced life [and] education in the pandemic will be stronger on the other side,” said Mary Stelter, Parkview Jr./Sr. High School principal in Orfordville, Wisconsin. “Students who have struggled have found that there are people who will always be there to assist them, provide their families with resources, and not give up on them.”
Parkview School District is back to in-person learning for the 2020-2021 school year. While students in all grades do have an all-virtual learning option available, most are learning in the classroom. In cases of covid-19 exposure, students connect with their classrooms via Google Classroom video.
Students who successfully learn from home gain great listening skills, said Hayley Wilson, school social worker with the Parkview School District. Those students also learn to be resourceful with their time so they can complete their work by the required due dates.
“This is often much more similar to life after high school,” Wilson said.
But students also lose plenty of social skills and interactions when they’re not in the presence of their peers, a concern on the minds of many folks in the education industry. For example, students who might not have siblings at home don’t have opportunities to practice their peer interactions like relationship building and conflict management, Wilson said.
“These are things frequently seen out on the playground,” she said.
While many students are showing resiliency as the pandemic drags on, the virtual learning required early in the pandemic is also taking a toll. Elementary students especially who didn’t consistently log in for virtual learning or did not have necessary support at home are suffering academically. Gaps are appearing in math and reading skills. The same is true for middle and high school students, Wilson said.
“Some older students are falling back on the idea that they can learn from home and do not need to come in person anymore,” she said. “This will continue to isolate them and increase their lack of social engagement.”
When students struggle academically, they often begin to struggle socially. This creates an entirely new set of problems for them.
Wilson noted some students may be waiting to apply for and attend college until all educational institutions are offering in-person learning options. They may have gotten poor test scores that they wouldn’t have gotten had they been learning in person. Colleges use those scores to decide students’ acceptance.
“[Students] may have struggled last year with online learning and the thought of doing that for college is terrifying,” she said.
As the pandemic continues on, Wilson said parents can persist in working with their kids to build academic skills through reading and playing educational games. She also suggested taking advantage of summer school offerings.