It has been almost one year since students of all age groups left the classroom and some of them have yet to return.
Mass online schooling has revealed and exacerbated many of the economic disparities existing within our education system, and it has given communities a glimpse into the oftentimes difficult home lives of its students.
The changes we have made in education during the pandemic in response to these disparities had the goal of setting more realistic expectations for students, given the extraordinary circumstances they are learning in. But the disparities students struggle with today have always existed, and once we are back in the classroom, they will not go away.
We cannot ignore the obstacles students face on a regular basis simply because we are happy to be back in the classroom. We need to take this opportunity to increase our personal and financial investment in education, or our schools will continue to fall behind other countries.
The U.S. ranks below average in math compared to the rest of the world, and out of the OECD countries, we rank 26th out of 34 in math, 21st in science and 17th in reading. While test scores are not completely representative of a nation's education, it has become clear the U.S. is lagging behind the developed world in public education.
The lack of investment in our communities and the disregard for struggling families shown by our government is the primary reason why our schools don't perform as well as they could.
If the community around a school is not strong, the school itself will suffer and the financial burden is often placed on teachers and low income families.
Despite high spending per student, we still fall behind in educational attainment, due primarily to significant economic inequality and emphasis on socioeconomic status.
We need to reinvest in our communities so we can provide every student with an equal education.
When schools were in session and students were learning on-site, it wasn't as apparent what their situation was outside of school. Once classrooms were emptied and students were sent home, it became clear the one-size-fits-all education system was not working.
Students have various roles and activities they participate in, such as playing sports, working and attending academic clubs. Some come from large families and have several disruptions in their home environment, while others may have parents who work long hours and need them to babysit.
Students in these situations have a harder time under a rigid scholastic schedule, and often can't meet the requirements and expectations in the classroom.
"We need to rebuild our mental health support for our kids," said Marisol Garcia, Vice President of the Arizona Education Association. "In every school I have ever worked in we had (one) counselor … we need to invest in not just counselors but social workers."
While the effects of the pandemic on the test scores and informational learning of our nation's children has been small, the effects on their lives and mental health will be remembered forever.
"What happened to our students was a loss of opportunity," Garcia said. "They lost opportunities to be in a classroom with each other, to learn from each other, to experience basketball games, soccer games, learn a new song, paint a picture … our kids did not lose learning, they’re doing okay (in tests)."
The amount of lost opportunities weighs heavy on children's shoulders. Their resilience in dealing with the effects of the pandemic is impressive, but we shouldn't have to rely on the resilience of students, rather they should be able to rely on their support systems.
"Go back and as a community remember that schools are the center of a community … how can we reinvigorate schools as a means of reinvigorating the community?" Garcia asked.
As our students return to the classroom, we owe it to them to create a better environment for learning and to pressure our government officials to do more to support schools and remove the burden from parents and educators.
Most importantly, we need to invest in the future of students, and recognize education must be equal and accessible to all.
Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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