Start September Strong: What Comes After Quarantine?

Michele Regan

School leaders across the globe have been faced with an enormous, unprecedented challenge-how do we educate students at home?  As usual educators kicked into action to figure out how to do this thing that has never been done - all in about a week’s time!  

Speaking from personal experience, I was blown away by my children’s school district’s ability to turn this around so quickly, and so thoughtfully.  

What jumped out at me most was the critical attention to the real needs of children and families at this time.  Plans were put in place overnight to make sure that students had meals.  Technology needs were surveyed and devices were loaned out to over a thousand students.  A virtual school community was created with school spirit photo posts and hashtags. 

Virtual meeting participants

Most importantly teachers worked to make kids feel like they were seen and heard.  My favorite was when my son’s high school English teacher (and his cat) invited students to bring their pets into a live video chat book discussion. We’ve seen some remarkable creativity from educators, and amazing flexibility from students, both quickly adapting to a digital learning space.

These incredible achievements need to be celebrated, and now seems like the perfect time for each of us to take a breath.  What has taken place over the past month has offered us many opportunities for reflection; surely we will be more patient, more flexible people going forward.

What Comes Next After Quarantine?

But as we continue to navigate this “new normal,” thoughts of “going back to school” linger. What will school in September look like? No one has a crystal ball, but what is almost certain is that our students will likely start the new year off behind where they would have been under typical circumstances.  Most educators confront some level of the “Summer Slide” when they start the new academic year, but I think we are unprepared for what post-quarantine will look like.    

Specifically, some new research by the Northwest Education Association attempts to shed light on students’ losses.  Researchers at NWEA used their 2017-2018 MAP data along with results of former summer achievement loss research.  These findings should not be ignored.  The projected setbacks students might experience significantly outpaces the Summer Slide:

“Preliminary COVID slide estimates suggest students will return in fall 2020 with roughly 70% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year. However, in mathematics, students are likely to show much smaller learning gains, returning with less than 50% of the learning gains and in some grades, nearly a full year behind what we would observe in normal conditions.”   

mathematics forecast

Are You Ready?

So what does this information mean for us as school leaders? What can we do now to prepare for this challenge, even as we continue with this year’s at-home learning?  

While the challenge ahead seems immense, the resilience and creativity that have been born out of this crisis are promising.  Educators’ never-ending commitment to their students is what makes me confident that we will figure out what comes next.  As I write this, my son, who is a senior in high school, just finished an early morning Breakfast Meeting with his Italian class. He stopped in to tell me that his teacher spent the time telling them how much she missed them and they mostly talked to one another about how they were doing.  The meeting ended with an agreement to do this every Monday morning!  While it is clear that we are committed to making this new normal work, I am equally confident that we will do what it takes to Start September Strong!   

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