Reflecting on Pandemic Education

Friday, September 03, 2021

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In the last 18 months, education has been forced to constantly adapt. This is not something K/12 public schools are good at. Dana Rosenbach, superintendent at North Mason School District said, “We are institutions embedded in past practices and so change comes hard for many.” 

Let's look at some of these changes, how they have affected students and what this means to economic development. 

Children are our future! They are our next generation of workers. The work they put into their education now will show in our county’s opportunities for growth in the coming years. 

With closures of school district doors back in March of 2020, education required an update to 21st century tools. Kelly Neely of Shelton School District said, “until something like this you don’t know what flexibility is.” The school district had to get creative with how they educate students on a 100% remote platform. Students were issued chrome books. Mason County as a rural community struggled to get some students Wi-Fi. Some were able to get away with hotspots, others were provided hard copies of their work or given a thumb drive to save their work on weekly.  This has taught the students that being flexible is important. Having a flexible workforce allows increased productivity and efficiency with talent retention and more employment opportunities.  

Dana Rosenbach told me, “It’s important to note that kids were still learning even if they weren’t doing schoolwork, even if they weren’t coming into class. They were not just sitting there and not taking anything in for the time they have not been in schools like they have been in the past. They have been learning things.” Yes, there has been a loss of schooling in an environment that allows socialization, learning how to be a part of a team and social skills. And yes, there will be social and life skills that aren’t as developed, but these impacts aren’t limited to only students, all of our lives and our skills have been changed since March of 2020. Kelly Neely said, “It's going to be rough for everyone. We got very comfortable in pjs all day and taking breaks when we want.” Socialization skills have increasingly become important as high paying jobs that are difficult to automate often require you to collaborate with others.  A collaborative workforce is a successful workforce. 

Our education system in Mason County has seen a lot of positive changes. Schools have started, more so than ever, looking at students' bigger pictures. As students learn to handle the current struggles, many are facing hardships for the first time. Providing more outreach and resources has been educators main priority. Students' base needs must be taken care of before students can engage in their learning. The pandemic has brought more empathy to this. “We had to focus on the whole child for the system to work.” The district really took into consideration “what can we do for each kid each day so they can have the opportunity to be successful.” Social and emotional health is important for kids. Our county has taken a huge step to make sure these kids can learn. Each student should and will be heard by their educators. 

The schools now are pushing for equity in opportunity for those in rural areas, second language learners, the homeless and those in poverty. The districts understand they need to offer many different options to educate their students. Both online and in-person education will take place to accommodate the needs and successes of students and their discoveries these past 18 months. As educators in Mason County look at students’ individual needs, it allows them to know their students better to develop skills and help guide them into a suitable career path. 

Additionally, students are able to develop and learn skills in the workplace with internships for credit programs. Dana Rosenbach said, “We are preparing kids for a world where they will change their careers, not just jobs, at least 6 times. Knowing how to be a lifelong learner is an important skill kids will have to have.” This will allow our workforce in Mason County to have diversity. A small rural workforce with versatility can be a powerful one to get the job done. This is huge for workforce development. Those who enter the work force at a young age are more likely to secure higher paying jobs later. There are also many benefits to the employers hiring young talent including lower wages, eager to learn workers. This benefits the workforce as younger workers become more experienced. 

Next year, schools are looking to meet student needs on multiple platforms. The plan is to be 100% open this fall for those who choose that option. For now, educators are evaluating the loss of education in these past 18 months and identifying the gaps. In the fall, education will look different in order to recover credits and bring students back to up to needed benchmarks.  

Academically, at this point recovery of education is expected to take many students about a year and a half. This means most of those going into their junior year this fall will be back on track by graduation. It will take others longer, but everyone is on a different route to success. Developmental science says it takes at least the same amount of time to make up for lost learning, but because learning builds on previous work, some may take much longer, and some may take less time. Social emotional factors will have a strong impact on the success of each student. Catching up academically will be very individual.  Dana Rosenbach said, “they’ve learned how to learn in very challenging environments.” This is a strong skill these students will bring to the workforce. They have had to adapt to new ways of receiving their education with challenges that has forced them to be creative in their thinking.?They are problem solvers. Their readiness for what is next is determined on an individual basis, but they are resilient and that will get them far.  Kelly Neely said, “time will have to deal with trauma and work on social and emotional needs.” We may see some issues with trust and feeling safe in the workplace as procedures for the health and safety have been taken more seriously. 

Overall, the last 18 months have forced education to become more updated in times and focused on the individual student needs. This will help push students where they are supposed to be. Kelly Neely said, “Teachers have to carry through. Don’t go back to the way it was before. The system has to change, we can't be stagnant.” With the growth of schools and the needs of students being looked at more closely, our education system is strengthening. Our students have more opportunities to succeed which means our schools are producing a more successful citizens for our workforce. Dana Rosenbach said, “I believe strongly that our students all need to be successful for us to be successful as a community and as a country.” 

Education is looking at the bigger picture to support students beyond giving them a K-12 education. They are giving them the skills and opportunities to be successful lifelong. The work they put into their education now will show in our county’s opportunities for growth in the coming years. ?Building a foundation for lifelong learning at a young age pushes an individual to continuously strive to learn and develop new skills. A community with a diversely educated workforce is attractive to developers. With more investment and developers, the future is bright for quality jobs that keep our businesses thriving and our community strong. 

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