CT School Districts Seek to Enrich Learning After Year of COVID-19

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Many of Connecticut’s 513,000 public school students have fallen behind due to the combined effects of COVID-19, including remote or hybrid learning.

A recent report said for some, it may be six to nine months of catching up. Now school districts are trying to get students back on track.

For months Deb Schmidt of Naugatuck has been waiting for a signal her son Brogan can resume in-person learning at Cooperative Arts & Humanities HS in New Haven.

“There's really not a response like who's gonna catch them up?” Schmidt said.
She added Brogan is on the spectrum and has minor disability issues, and losing human interaction all these months has had an impact on his interpersonal skills, one of his weaknesses he has worked to improve.

He’s a senior, and Schmidt said he will graduate and never get a chance to make up the lost learning.

“We need to give them something and make sure that they're ready for their next steps.”

Brogan’s school district, which reopened his school to hybrid learning this April, told NBC Connecticut Investigates that it received at least three emails from Brogan’s mother concerning Brogan, one complimenting the support he received.

The district added it responded to all Schmidt’s emails and had parent meetings about Brogan.

Schmidt is not alone. A report by RISE Connecticut said just a little more than half of fully remote students are on track in their classes.

Those doing hybrid learning, a combination of remote and in-person class, did a little better, with about three-quarters of them on track.

The Norwalk school district said early in the pandemic it realized learning loss was going to be a huge issue for students. It already has set up something at Norwalk high school called “The Twilight Academy”.

Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Dr. Alexandra Estrella explained she and her team took a deep dive into attendance data when they first noticed the decline in performance by some students, and that’s how they came up with the Twilight Academy.

“We were noticing several students attendance patterns dropping over time. Engagement was a factor of concern and we wanted to hone in to see what was causing engagement to drop and attendance to also not be what it was before. So we formulated an attendance and engagement team as a result of some of the patterns and trends that we noticed.”

“To give them hope once again that they can re-engage that they can, progress I think has been one of the most rewarding things not only for the students but for staff as well,” Twilight Academy supervisor Job Fernandez said.

The district set up the program for juniors and seniors it discovered had stopped attending classes to work and support their families in multiple ways.

Yvette Goorevitch, Norwalk’s Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services, shared in detail the challenges some students have.

“Young children at home and daycares have closed mom and dad need to go to work so it's 18-year-old brother or sister that's responsible. We realized we needed to meet these students where they were and solve the challenge that is being presented. And we're delighted to have done that.“

The Twilight Academy helps students most in need. But there are many others that could use some help. For example, educators say COVID-19 has impacted students of color to a much larger degree. That has the Norwalk schools superintendent and many others considering multiple solutions.

“We're also looking at some of the summer, and how to creatively program our summer school so that we provide additional support, not only throughout the academic school year starting in September but also between the months of July and August,” Dr. Estrella said.

Fran Rabinowitz with the Connecticut Association of Public-School Superintendents also was appointed to the state’s Accelerate CT task force which is mapping out how to get students back on track.

Rabinowitz said expect summer school to play a large role statewide.

“Families and teachers need to know what the plans are by the end of April. And we're committed to that.”

She added that millions in federal funding for transportation should make summer school more accessible to students.

“It's a huge game changer!”

Other plans considered or adopted by districts across the state include:

  • More tutoring in summer schools
  • Summer internships and studies in the field for older students
  • Programs with group projects instead of in class learning

Rabinowitz pointed out, “It is important to make it fun because our children our teachers our families have been through very challenging times.”

Some districts may even extend the school year, though the superintendents association says it has not heard of any doing that yet.

Educators say all this requires a different mindset for what they’re trying to accomplish:

Not learning loss, rather unfinished teaching. Not recovery, but renewal. Not remediation, but acceleration.

So far, Deb Schmidt says none of these ideas have been presented to help with her son’s needs.

“Maybe he's going to need some more help when he goes to college maybe I’m going to have to kind of intervene and get some more services for him somehow someway.”

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