As the new school year starts, albeit mostly online, it’s critical for the sake of students’ future that they stay on track academically.
That’s no simple task. It’s a huge undertaking, and this community is fortunate the Walla Walla School District has done an outstanding job preparing for online and distance learning, and it has plans for getting kids back in the classroom when the time is right.
Still, no amount of planning or hard work can replicate in-class learning nor can it meet the needs of every student educationally, socially or with mental health.
These areas must be watched closely by parents and educators.
Three students at Skyline High School in the Issaquah area developed a survey to find out how students in Washington state were feeling going into a school year where distance learning was on the agenda. The survey results, which were collected in partnership with The Seattle Times, provide important insights.
Last week the three students — Neela Agarwal, Ava Finn and Esteban Ortiz-Villacorta — met with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal to share their findings.
The students told The Times they emphasized to Reykdal the need for schools to understand and better serve students’ mental health concerns by encouraging proactive outreach from counselors and empathy from teachers.
“A lot of the conversation initially with school and COVID tended to be around what the format would look for online instruction,” said Finn, who is 16. “It was really important to all of us that we advocated for the mental and emotional needs that students would have within this time because for a lot of students, that [school] is their main resource.”
These concerns are genuine, and need attention at every school district in the state.
More than 1,800 students took the online survey between March and June. Students surveyed attend school in Seattle, Issaquah, Spokane, Kirkland, Bothell, Ferndale and a few others.
Almost all students surveyed described their experiences with online learning as a challenge, according to The Times reporting. Those frustrations included difficulty comprehending coursework, trouble focusing and difficulties in finding reliable internet or a quiet place to study.
“There isn’t an easy way to communicate with peers and work together to solve problems, complete work, or to ask questions/get clarification,” one student wrote.
Socialization, including the need for relationships at school to help them cope with a difficult family life, was a big concern for many. Others felt they were losing contact with friends or found it hard to make friends.
This, of course, is just a tiny sample of what was written by students who took the survey, but it shows the depths of the problems created by the pandemic.
The fact that Reykdal took the time to get this information is critical in making the 2020-2021 school year a good experience for as many as possible.