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  • Stacey Benz

How Has The Pandemic Affected Students?

Updated: Feb 22, 2022

How Has The Pandemic Affected Students?

Just about two years ago, students and staff would have never predicted the interruptions to their daily school life due to an impending pandemic. So, just how has the pandemic affected students in their education, outside of school, and in their day-to-day interactions? March 2020 threw just about everything we knew about education into a complete one-eighty. In a matter of days, students were trying to learn from home, using systems and technology that may have infrequently or rarely been used to access their schooling in the past. Teachers had rarely received training for how to go virtual – much of what they had experienced with their profession was gone in a flash. But somehow, adjustments were made, and teachers and students did the best they could to persevere.

Fast forward two years. The rapid spread of the omicron variant of Covid has caused many schools to adjust their learning environments, modify testing requirements, and deal with significant staff and student absences. The physical aspect of being able to learn (and teach!) at school is one obvious impact of the Covid pandemic, but there are many other underlying factors, not as easy to recognize, that are impacting the students of today.

Check out this visual by April Requard indicating the last “normal” school year students have experienced. For nearly half of our elementary school aged students, they have never had what most of us would consider a “normal” year. For an 8th grader, a “normal” school year would have last taken place during their last grade at elementary school. And for high school students, most have yet to be able to experience high school under “normal” circumstances.

The impact of interrupted schooling during child development has other implications as well. Students have dealt with a higher degree of isolation, trauma, and uncertainty than ever before. While this is not new for schools, the impact the pandemic has had on a broad population has affected the response schools are able to provide. Twin Cities Education Consultants (TCEC) School Psychologists shared their thoughts about how the pandemic has affected students.

Tessa Tanaka shares her experience since the pandemic began, noting that many students are experiencing a greater level of stress, less stability (housing and food), and isolation from peers. With interrupted schooling, it is important to consider adjusting expectations on students. Take the time with your school MTSS team to ensure that a solid system of support is in place, and recognize that with less opportunity to engage in a stable learning environment, students may not actually be behind, but may need additional support to ensure continued success. Additionally, relationships are extremely crucial in education. Let students know that they are important and cared about regardless of the learning environment. School is still a community, even if it isn’t in a physical location. Ms. Tanaka shared a few resources that may benefit educators and parents:

Adults are also having a difficult time, often with differing opinions on how to respond during the pandemic,” says Kelly Peterson, TCEC school psychologist. She explains this also has an impact on children as they look to the adults they trust, to know how to navigate through the unknowns. Many children have a trusted adult at school they count on, and distance or interrupted learning has impacted the relationships they require to feel safe. Additionally, students have struggled, even before the pandemic, with social interactions, often related to social media use. The COVID-19 surge has limited face-to-face interactions for the past several years. As a result, it is important that we, as a school system, support social emotional learning with explicit teaching, as tier I, to all students. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs recognizes the importance of ensuring basic needs and safety before addressing academic standards. Educators need to adjust the expectation of students “just knowing social skills”. We must realize that academic and social skills are equally as important to teach explicitly, and to support with interventions, when necessary.

Ms. Peterson shared some important questions to ask children:

“If you had a magic wand, what would you do to make school/home/life better?”

“What was the best part of your day? What is something that didn’t go so great?

Additionally, it is important for adults to share their experiences, modeling for children that everyone has a range of emotions and feelings, normalizing that things don’t always go great – even for adults.

Thinking about adults, this is hard on us, too. As educators (and parents), we have not been prepared for this experience. Ms. Tanaka reminds us that it is important to ensure your own mental health and self-care. “Even if it feels like one more thing, taking care of yourself is critical when taking care of others, especially children.” Ms. Peterson would agree – adding that it is similar to putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others. “Everyone is dealing with the pandemic in their own way, so practice patience and understanding. Recognize that living through a pandemic is a bit like constantly being in a flight or fight situation. Be supportive of others. Be kind. Be nice. Play nice.”

But, not all is lost from the pandemic. Educators and the education system are at a crossroads. Lessons have been learned over the past two years, and implementing and making changes is not only beneficial for students, staff and the school community, it is necessary. What benefits have come from this? Taking the time to ask the hard questions of students and staff, listening to their challenges, but also recognizing what has been appreciated and valued during this difficult time, is important. Is it time to look at school schedules? Modified schedules? Student choice? Flexibility? Project based learning? Focus on social needs equally as part of the MTSS process? The possibilities are endless, and our time to change is now.

Has the pandemic affected students at your school? Contact us today to learn more about how our expert education consultants are here to assist your students and staff while navigating difficult times – we are in this together.

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