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The (COVID) Kids Are Alright

It’s undeniable that the pandemic affected everything. Education during the pandemic and even now has taken a huge hit, from teachers quitting in droves, to standardized test scores going down, to behavioral concerns that remain unresolved. As someone who avidly follows conversations about educational issues, COVID-19 as a root issue comes up frequently, and COVID kids are often criticized. “COVID kids” refers to the generation of children that spent a number of years out of school due to the pandemic, which created a large group of kids who missed out on years of in-person social interaction with their peers. Moving into a post-pandemic world, children are less engaged with their education, but what’s to blame?

My question is this: how long can we continue to blame COVID-19 for issues in our educational system before we start looking for solutions? The issue I’m noticing is that by blaming COVID-19 for any school issue, we’re shutting down any opportunity for a productive conversation about solutions. Yes, COVID-19 created issues, but now it should be about finding equitable solutions.   When we have conversations about how kids struggle in school, COVID-19 is to blame. While COVID-19 contributed to the point society is at now, by ignoring the other causes, it is a disservice to this generation of students. 

I’ve been working with kids for years. Before the pandemic I volunteered at schools frequently. I took a break during the pandemic and then returned to working at elementary schools a year ago. When I started working with kids post-pandemic, the difference was alarming. I know fourth graders who struggle to subtract, write and read books that should be on grade level. There have always been kids who’ve lagged behind, but the amount of kids I encounter that are years behind is higher than I’ve ever seen. Not only this, but students as a whole seem to lack the same engagement that they had before the pandemic. 

The issue with “COVID kids” is that during the pandemic, when everyone was working and learning virtually, parents didn’t necessarily have time to assist their child with schoolwork or engage with them after school due to working at home. Time that students would have spent in after school programs or spending time with friends before their parents got off work were spent online. Most parents admittedly turned to more screen time to occupy their children while they worked from home. This is not a criticism of parents; everyone was in survival mode. I would argue that there is correlation and valid reason to explain why kids may have fallen behind socially and academically, but that was a few years ago. This gap was a real issue when kids returned to in-person school, but COVID-19 should not be the only thing leveraged to explain the gap on children's shortcomings. A current fifth grader would have been in first or second grade when schools shut down. Their education was interrupted, but with the help of their parents, it should not have been a major obstacle in their learning.

The issue I find myself and others running into is the attitude adopted by parents post pandemic. Before, when speaking to a parent about their child struggling, the attitude was “what can I do as a parent to supplement what is being taught at school to get them back on track”. Now, my experience has shifted, such that the attitude has morphed into “what are you not doing to help my child.” Parents have shifted into a mindset that expects all teaching to happen at school, and do little to supplement their child's learning at home, and blame the lack of progress on a COVID learning gap. 

All this to say, COVID-19 created issues in schools, but at what point do we start to move beyond this? We’re doing a disservice to these kids by continuing to shift blame. COVID-19 exposed and exacerbated a lot of issues that were already present in schools. Teachers quitting was caused by a culmination of issues like a lack of support from administrators. Administrators pre-COVID only did so much, but during the pandemic and returning to in person school this lack of support became a much bigger problem. 

Despite this, I do have faith in “COVID kids.” Their reputation for behavioral concerns does not stem from nowhere but the majority of kids that I work with now are kind, funny and thoughtful. They have an emotional awareness that I’ve never witnessed in kids before, they are often able to identify the emotions they’re feeling, and how it’s causing them to act. They’ve fallen behind, sure, but the potential is there. It’s time to start looking for solutions in order to better provide for this generation of children. 

 

By Liese Devine, Features Editor

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