COLORADO, USA — After a year full of inconsistencies, students and educators are preparing for another school semester with the effects of COVID-19 still lingering.
Stevens Elementary School second grade teacher Kristina McCombie is planning for a school year, where she is just excited to have all of her students back together in-person. "It will be a learning curve for all of us," said McCombie. "It'll be really learning how to do school but learning how to do school in this new COVID way."
Most educators argue in-person learning remains the most effective learning model for students. McCombie said it all depends on a teacher's methods and how engaging they make their assignments.
For McCombie, concerns of lack or decrease in engagement remain the same. "It happens even if you’re in person, they start to tune out...the concern doesn’t change, whether you’re online or in-person." She is more concerned about the toll the back and forth switching from remote to in-person learning takes on her students.
Jeffco Public Schools
In a district-wide family survey conducted by Jeffco Public Schools, families who selected their child was learning in-person answered most positively about engagement and instruction. Responses were less positive for the remote learning experience both for families who selected their child was learning in the hybrid and 100% remote models. Families who selected their child was learning 100% remotely answered more positively about engagement and instruction in the remote setting compared to families who selected their child was learning in-person or hybrid.
President of the Colorado Education Association, Amie Baca-Oehlert said they do not have a solid picture of the impacts last year's learning experiences had on students. She expects to have a clearer picture 3-4 weeks into the new school year. "Our teachers are gonna do what they always do at the start of every school year. They’re gonna assess students to see where they’re at, they’re going to take the students from where they are and move them forward from that point," Baca-Oehlert said.
Both Baca-Oehlert and McCombie said they are hoping for a more consistent in-person school year moving forward. "We know that that is the best place for our students as well as our educators, but we also know that there are still some variables out there that can threaten that consistent learning," said Baca-Oehlert.
This time around, McCombie said she at least feels more prepared to make the switch back to remote learning if necessary. "They know how to adapt, know how to shift with the shifting landscape and that’s what they’re going to do as this school year starts as well," Baca-Oehlert said.
Aurora Public Schools
Across town at Aurora Public Schools (APS), a district report showed that the pandemic exacerbated existing inequities in their community. The report showed a subset of students who were severely chronically absent (more than 20% of the time or 1 day per week) increased dramatically in the 2020-2021 school year. These absence rates disproportionately increased in students of color. The highest increase was found in students who identified as Native Hawaiian. During the 2019-2020 school year, 19% of students in that demographic were severely chronically absent. During the 2020-2021 school year, that number increased to 48%. In their report APS said "These rates are unacceptable especially for our students of color and we must continue to build on systems that support students equitably."
All APS schools shifted between different learning modes several times throughout the school year: remote, hybrid, and in-person learning. APS said the transitions were disruptive and difficult to navigate. The district reports the back and forth transitions had an impacted student engagement. 56% of students reported being frequently engaged in their school work at mid-year compared to 66% of students at the end of the year, according to data from the district's COVID-19 Student Surveys. The report showed, prior to the pandemic, this number was at 79%.
Adams12 Five Star Schools
A spokesperson for Adams12 Five Star Schools said they did not have any reports related to the impact of in-person vs. remote learning due to students switching between the different modes at several different points during the course of the 2020-2021 school year.
Cherry Creek Schools
In a statement to 9NEWS, a spokesperson for Cherry Creek Schools said "We have a high-quality rigorous online learning option for our students. Last year, when families chose between online learning or in-person, the online option was an existing online middle and high school called Cherry Creek Elevation. We created a specific program for K-5 students who wanted to learn online. So we would not agree that there are learning disparities between our online and in-person learners."
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