The toll the pandemic has taken on children - Paycheck

The toll the pandemic has taken on children

News headlines across the country have touted pretty much the same headline:  Remote School Is Leaving Children Sad and Angry - The Washington Post; Homeschooling During The Coronavirus Will Set Back A Generation Of Children - Washington Post. There have been problems with technology not working correctly, including slow internet speeds, or having no access at all.  More inactivity than before.  No in-person learning means no gym class or recess to get out and get moving; Trouble keeping up with schoolwork.  Students who needed extra assistance may fall behind now that they aren’t in school on a regular basis.  Some districts say they will have summer school for children to catch up.  Virtual learning also affects children’s social skills and self esteem.  Having friends  at a pivotal time in their lives is crucial to a child’s well being and not being able to see them in person only hurts them in the long run.   Now, in regards to the last headline, we are not saying homeschooling itself is a bad thing if done correctly and willingly by parents.  But, many weren’t prepared to become a teacher or partially instructing their children in addition to parenting and holding a job outside of the home when the pandemic hit thanks to COVID-19.


Julie, a parent in the Mountain View School District, Kingsley, Susquehanna County, says children do best when they are on a set schedule, “First let me start with saying children thrive on knowing what to expect.  When we as adults don’t even know what to expect, how can we relay this to kids.  The uncertainty is not always something helpful.  Kids don’t thrive by flying by the seat of their pants all the time.”  Julie and her husband Will have four children, Holly, 15, 9th grade; Luke, 14, 8th grade; Kali, 10, 4th grade and Maci, 8, third grade.  The changes she has seen in her own kids have been eye opening.  “ The change I’ve noticed in my own children is alarming.  Having four it impacts all of them differently.  Holly once needed to be in school to socialize.  Academically she will and does thrive regardless of the setting.  However, socially, she needs her classmates.  I’ve seen her depressed during quarantines.  So upset being “stuck” home.  Taking to social media all too often for her age.  The winter months were the worst.  Spring seems to be helping but still the worry about if she will be pulled from class for being too close to a fellow student who tests positive weighs on her.  My son needs school for academics rather than socialization.  Sure he loves being with his friends and classmates, but he needs his teachers in person.  He tries but for a boy who thrives on learning by doing a virtual lesson doesn’t cut it.  He also thrives on competition.  The friendly type with his classmates where they solve math problems and reading questions in class.  I’ve noticed the biggest academic issues with Kali.   Previously, aka before COVID, she was a straight A student. Now, she’s lucky to be passing.  Virtual learning has set her back tremendously.  She is frustrated. She gets stuck and almost gives up.  We help but I’m not an educator.  She shows up for her Google Meets and her teacher is trying her best but the challenges are insurmountable.  She has grown in her art skills though.  She has always enjoyed drawing and creating and crafting and this has allowed her more time for that.  However, she struggles with masks.  Therefore, she has chosen not to participate in anything extracurricular due to masking requirements.  This has cut down on her physical activity.  My youngest has always struggled with reading.  She is good in most other subjects except English language arts (ELA). At school she is able to get extra help.  At home and virtually it’s now left for us to work on this.  Thankfully her teacher is fabulous and they send me stuff to work on with her but when do we do this?  Working parents are taking on a new role as part educators.  Our district has been doing their best but when they know the student has attentive parents as opposed to those less fortunate, some extra falls on the attentive parents.  This adds an extra strain on already busy home lives.  School starts by 8:30 on virtual days but due to parents' work schedules, older kids are left home to help their younger siblings.  Then school is still going on well into family time,” she said.


On the other side of the coin, schools are trying their best to deal with the situation that has been dealt to them.  Jessica Aquilina, Ed.D.,Superintendent of Schools, Forest City Regional School District, Forest City, Susquehanna County, talks about ways the district has worked to lessen the impact on its students. “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on all of us.  For our students, we have worked to integrate systems to protect our students from the increased social isolation that is brought on with full-virtual and hybrid learning models.  During full virtual instruction, our teachers implemented office hours during which students could check-in for additional help or support or, just to connect.  In addition, our school counselors and administrators contacted students and families who seemed to have difficulty navigating remote learning.  We provided support with internet services, development of at-home learning schedules, and really worked with our families in any way needed to provide support. 


We offer access to robust behavioral health services in the school setting with a school based behavioral health team comprised of two masters level therapists and three bachelors level behavioral health workers.  In addition, we hired a school social worker and have an outpatient therapist available.  We have implemented Second Step Social Emotional Learning curriculum across grades K-8 .


Like other districts, we have concerns regarding the impact of the pandemic on the academic growth of all of our students.  Our Board of Directors has earmarked significant funding from the ESSER COVID grants we have received to provide our students with access to summer school programming and morning and afterschool tutoring.  These funds are available through the 2023-2024 school year.  The best way for us to support students in closing gaps caused by the pandemic is to increase their time working with a highly qualified teacher.  In addition, our Board has budgeted for an additional teacher at grades 2 and 3 for the 2021-2022 school year.  We want to support our students in achieving reading proficiency by the end of third grade,”  she said.


Theresa Opeka

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