This is new territory for educators and schools. What affect will COVID-19 have on students after such a long break from teachers and their classrooms?
Gerald Tidwell, principal of Warren County Middle School, is concerned about the learning gap that will exist between March 13 and Aug. 12, when school is scheduled to resume.
“Our students will not be prepared for the next grade level standards and as a school, we are going to have to develop a plan to allow for catch-up growth while at the same time attempting to make sure students make a full year's worth of growth for 2020 and 2021,” said Tidwell. “That will be a daunting task that will require a lot of extra planning by our staff, a lot of pushing and pulling students along the way, and a lot of buy in from all stakeholders, parents, students and staff, concerning the importance of closing the learning gaps and continuing to make sure students learn the grade level curriculum in all subject areas.”
“It always takes teachers the first month to six weeks to get students back on track and prepared for new learning at the next grade level,” said Tidwell. “With the recent school shut down, you can pretty much double the amount of time it will take to get student knowledge back to where it once was or where it needs to be in order to comprehend the new grade level standards. We typically expect students to struggle a bit when they learn new material but it will be much more difficult in the fall as teachers and students will really be challenged with making more than the expected annual yearly growth due to the lost learning time this spring.”
Tidwell feels the WCMS staff did an exceptional job with maintaining contact with students and presenting them with opportunities to practice the academic skills they learned prior to the school closure.
“We focused on giving students repetition with the newly learned schools in hopes that students would be more likely to retain this information. It is very difficult for staff to present new information when it was very unlikely that all students had the resources needed to engage in virtual learning opportunities with their teacher once the school closure happened. That will be a task that we must accomplish now in the event another school closure should happen. Over the summer break, students were given summer learning guidelines for continued learning in hopes that students would be better prepared for the start of the new school year,” stated Tidwell.
Tidwell shared what is needed when school returns is that the students are ready and eager to learn every day that they come to school.
“Our teachers and staff do an excellent job of holding students accountable for their learning as well as motivating students to want to learn. I don’t anticipate that being an issue but students will be challenged more now than ever because the catch up growth is so important this year.”
Parents will need to assist their child’s teachers in holding students accountable for their work and making sure the work students are doing is their best effort and high quality work, suggested Tidwell.
“If every parent will make that commitment, we will see high levels of student growth and students will make up the lost ground that was caused for the school closure,” he said.
Tidwell’s advice for students, parents and schools is making it a priority to be sure that learning and the learning activities are fun for students. “When students enjoy learning and are able to be engaged in the learning activities, high levels of learning can exist. Gone are the old school days of teachers giving hour-long lectures followed with seat work for students to work in isolation. Teachers today must be creative in their planning to make sure the learning activities pique the interest of students and provide them with a hunger to want to know more.”
In case there is a second wave to the pandemic in the fall, Tidwell suggests making sure every student has access to technology that will allow them to connect a whole group and in some cases, one-on-one with the classroom teacher.
“If a second wave of the virus were to hit and school closure happened once again, we must be able to reach our students virtually on a daily basis to continue making sure students learn their grade level standards. I’m sure this will be a major emphasis of planning for our school district this fall,” said Tidwell.