Dealing with the emotional, academic toll of the pandemic as students head back into the classroom

Coronavirus Update New Jersey
NEW JERSEY (WABC) -- As the lights go back on in classrooms throughout the region, the challenge is not only getting kids back in safely but dealing with the emotional and academic toll of the pandemic.

"Teachers are going to have conversations with students, you know, 'how do you feel? How do you feel about being out a year?' Once we get past that, then we could start putting in place the learning loss and finding out exactly where students are," said Paterson Schools Superintendent Eileen Schafer.

While finding out how students feel is the focus of the current or upcoming session, all eyes are on the traditional return in September.

"This is not going to be a routine opening, this is going to be a comeback, and we have to be really thoughtful about what our students come back into," said NYC Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter, "We should not be about how we reopen what we had, we should be thinking about how we reopen moving forward."

Experts say grade school kids, those transitioning to middle school or into high school have had a tough time the last year. Efforts are underway to make sure kids are ready for the fall.

"So if they're in the third grade, we're going to give them a third grade assessment and see where they are, see where the shortcomings are, and then we're planning a summer program," said Superintendent Schafer.

There will also be after school and Saturday enrichment in Paterson, but assessments show math is a subject where many kids have struggled. So much of the past year exposed the digital divide, a gulf between the have and have nots.

"The end result of COVID and the lost year of learning is that you'll have huge gaps, and they're going to impact students for the next 5-10 years of their school career, which is really unfortunate," said Jersey City mayor Steven Fulop.

There is a monumental task ahead calling for innovation, maybe adjusting the school calendar and some give and take. While parents want their kids to get back to learning, the kids themselves need more, meaning everyone will have to meet the students where they are after so much dramatic change.

"We need to give kids the space to re-learn how to be in school. We need to give kids the space to talk, befriend and form relationships again," said Newark Trust for Education Executive Director Ron Chalvisan.

A positive note is that the year of computer learning did prepare students for the future.

"Here's what - you took advantage of those last 11 months, let's build on that now to accelerate some learning," Chalvisan added.

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