2 Years Later and What Do We See?
Meg Smith, MSW, LICSW, ACSW
Workforce Development Coordinator, Center for Trauma Care in Schools
Schools across the nation are off to a good start this fall in returning to something as close to pre-pandemic normality as is possible. The start to the new school year appears to be more settled and closer to normal routines for students and staff after two and a half years of school closures, uneven and inconsistent remote learning access for children most in need, and the very real social and emotional stress that students and teachers faced last year in the return to in person learning.
Schools are using the lessons they have learned during the pandemic to innovate new ways of keeping their students and staff safe. Schools have resumed out-of-school time programming (OST) including sports activities with spectators, club activities with their peers, and live music and theater productions. All of these signal that schools can return to being safe and supportive places for kids to learn and grow.
Of course there are real challenges ahead as shown by data from the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Long-Term Trend results for 9-year-olds. The initial results as reported in recent articles in the Washington Post and NYTimes indicate that there has been a significant decline in math and reading scores from the pre-pandemic 2019 NAEP results. This has some experts expressing concern that it may take until 2028 for the average scores to rebound. Others such as education historian Diane Ratvich believe that “we may be able to overcome this slide in a shorter time as long as we have high quality experienced teachers in our classrooms and no significant closures and disruptions.”
School districts understand that to overcome the learning loss of the past two years, especially for students who were already below grade level, or who drifted away from regular attendance in person or online, or who may have been among the 100,000 who lost family members to the pandemic, much work remains. Naturally, the impact on social-emotional development has been profound, as has traumatic stress. Teachers and other school staff everywhere are working hard to reestablish caring and supportive in-person relationships - a primary driver for students and families to want to be in school and benefit from the potential transformative benefits that positive student-teacher relationships can. In addition, many districts are adopting new approaches to educator recruitment, retention and well-being. These commitments and innovative approaches are some of the ways that can help us to climb back up to increased engagement and achievement.