Educators across Kentucky, and the nation, are finding that the pandemic has caused a loss of academic progress, as students struggle with a roller coaster of schedules and remote learning.
Another major loss is the limitation, or suspension, of extracurricular activities.
The return of in-person learning in many Kentucky school districts may begin to make up for some of the gaps in social connection and academic progress.
Teachers and students across Kentucky continue the monumental struggle to adapt to COVID-19 safety precautions.
But despite all the best intentions, the pandemic has blasted a hole in the social and academic structure of education.
Brigette Blom Ramsey is president and CEO of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.
“It’s hard to estimate right now specifically for Kentucky, but what we know nationally is that the estimates are that students are losing 9 to 11 months of learning over the time period of COVID," said Ramsey. "So that should be a big concern to all of us.
Ramsey said proficiency has to be assessed, especially in reading and math, so educators can meet students where they are, and develop plans to help them catch up.
“I think individual communities need to make decisions about an extended school year, or ways to support students into the summer months, to ensure that as they come back in the fall, hopefully in an in-person setting, but maybe still at times virtual, that we have wrapped those supports around students," said Ramsey.
Surveys done by the Prichard Committee found that social isolation, including the suspension of extracurricular activities, is affecting the mental health and well-being of students.
“As those peer groups are so important for them, and oftentimes it’s those extracurricular activities that give them time with their peers,” said Ramsey.
Someone who understands that is Conner Flick, 17. He experienced the loss of his drama club when his northern Kentucky high school went to virtual learning.
“It was about 50 of us," said Flick. "The actors had been rehearsing for well over four months.”
Flick and his classmates at Conner High School in Boone County found out that school was shutting down just before the opening night for their show.
“It was a hard moment, " said Flick. "There was a lot of crying going on. People were devastated.”
Flick is now a student at Gatton Academy at Western Kentucky University and on the Kentucky Student Voice Team. He took part in the 'Coping with COVID' study that analyzed 13,000 responses from students from across Kentucky’s 120 counties.
“They just weren’t able to reach out and have those connections and really have a social moment in a time to where students were desperate," said Flick. "Students were kind of at their wits end and really needed someone else and they just weren’t getting that. And so having this lack of extracurricular activities was very, very damaging for a lot of students.”
The Music Plays On
At Warren East Middle School in Bowling Green, conductor Dakota Compton has been having practice for the 8th grade orchestra. It's one of the extracurricular activities currently being held in-person on a hybrid schedule.
Compton is also orchestra director for Warren East High School and four local elementary schools.
“It’s been tough on everybody," said Compton. "Our extracurricular activities, whether it be music, art or family and consumer science, has been kind of an outlet, especially for mental health.”
Compton had students play their instruments over Google Meet during times of virtual only learning. He said the next change is when Warren County Public Schools return to in-person learning the first week of March.
“My four elementary schools, we’ve been seeing them virtually on Fridays," said Compton. "So I’m gonna actually get to see them in person when we go four days a week.”
Warren County Public Schools and Bowling Green Independent Schools are among the Kentucky districts bringing more students back to in-person learning.
Many educators and parents are hoping that being back, in-person, with teachers and classmates will help students catch up academically and begin healing from theisolation of the pandemic.