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As I sat in front of my computer, scrolling through websites instead of shifting my attention towards geometry class, I realized virtual learning left me burnt out. I felt as if I couldn’t grasp the curriculum, which led me to believe it was pointless to try to succeed in school.
During the first few weeks of school, we took tests to measure our current progress. After getting calculations wrong, I guessed on most of the questions. It lowered my self-esteem and made me feel ashamed for not learning up to expectations. However, I knew that other students had the same experience, too.
Although Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) is proclaimed one of the most diverse school systems in the nation, the achievement gap continues to impact students of color. The COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, has highlighted the loss of learning during virtual instruction. A report from Bethesda Magazine states that for some demographic groups — minority and low-income students — there was a 40 percentage point decrease in the number of students meeting the standards at the end of the 2020-2021 school year.
“It is clear that the pandemic has resulted in a significant learning disruption over the past 18 months,” Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight told Bethesda Magazine.
Virtual learning also exposed how mental health and the achievement gap correlated with each other. Some students may have been working multiple jobs, for example, to provide for their families.
Another common scenario is that many students haven’t been able to experience social interaction for more than a year. These factors exacerbated their mental health, which led to low student performance and learning difficulties.
“During virtual school, I didn’t feel like myself as I used to before COVID-19. I was locked in at home and stuck in my room, staring at a computer all day. Not being able to see my friends and teachers made me feel alone,” Emily Luna, a freshman at Rockville High School, stated.
Keeping this in mind, MCPS should prioritize mental health by increasing the counselor-to-student ratio and implementing safe areas for check-ins. Counselors won’t be overworked, setting more time aside to help students who may be stressed out with school or any other circumstances. This would expand the accessibility for students to have one-on-one counseling sessions and focus on their mental health concerns. Mental health wouldn’t be stigmatized, encouraging students to reach out to community services and resources. It would be an outlet for students to express themselves as well as understand that schools are supposed to be spaces to help them, not degrading them because of a singular score.
Furthermore, in order to make up for learning loss, there should be intervention and tutoring sessions before or after school so that students won’t have to miss any lessons during regular hours. Because students would benefit from learning on-level material, it would address core standards as outlined in the PreK-12 Maryland College and Career Ready Standards (MCCRS) and State Standards.
Personalized guidance from teachers during these sessions would allow students to delve deeper into the initially condensed curriculum and ask questions, boosting their confidence in the classroom. If students prefer peer interaction instead, clubs could offer tutoring with the support and resources of the school. If such clubs already exist, more attention and funding should be put towards the organizations to ensure that students can access them.
McKnight acknowledges that these changes will demand “being intentional and direct to know each learner, to know what their learning needs are and address them," and she emphasizes that no student should be left behind in the school system.
As students slowly adjust back into the in-person setting, it is important to understand that virtual learning impacts everyone to different degrees. Many solutions need to be readily available so that there are support systems for students who aren’t comfortable adapting yet.
Regardless of whether it changed their academic progress or mental health, the top priority is for schools to create an inclusive environment where students are learning to the best of their ability.