04 BoyStudyingHC1408 sourceIt is not like we did not know this was coming. It is just that now we know how bad it really is. To absolutely no one’s surprise, North Carolina’s public school students have fallen behind during our state, nation and world’s year-long ordeal with COVID-19.

The numbers do not lie. A majority of our state’s high schoolers did not pass end-of-course exams last fall. Younger students are not faring well either. Almost 60% of third-graders scored at the lowest level of the beginning-of-grade reading exam and a full 3/4s of them tested not proficient in reading.

Results vary, of course, among individual students, schools and school systems, and no one is cheering. Said North Carolina’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Catherine Truitt, “It has been a year of lost learning."

But what did we expect?

Under even the most favorable circumstances, students have been outside classrooms and physically away from teachers and each other for a year. Some are contending with difficult family situations such as job losses, reduced income, food insecurity, illnesses and even death. All are dealing with the reality of a worldwide pandemic unlike any in an entire century. My own Precious Jewels are long out of classrooms, but I spent some time during the spring with two little boys, ages 10 and 7, contending with virtual school. The 10-year-old, a thoughtful boy able to concentrate for more than a few minutes, did his sparse online work, if for no other reason than to have it behind him. The 7-year-old, a live wire with two speeds—full-tilt boogie and asleep - learned nothing except how to operate his iPad, and the mom overseeing all this was stressed to the max herself. That mother and millions of other parents and educators will now admit that virtual learning is not optimal for many students, especially younger ones and those with special needs.

It feels now, though, that we are turning a corner on COVID-19. More vaccine shots are administered daily, and schools are beginning to reopen for in person classes with various precautions. The road ahead nevertheless looks long full of challenges. In a letter to state school superintendents last month, acting assistant U.S. Education Secretary Ian Rosenblum wrote, “To be successful once schools have reopened, we need to understand the impact COVID-19 has had on learning and identify what resources and supports students need … We must also specifically be prepared to address the educational inequities that have been exacerbated by the
pandemic …”

It is hard to find a silver lining in any of this, but there may be some. Having life as we have always known it change in a matter of days a year ago offers lessons not necessarily taught in classrooms. Students may have learned that life brings hardships, and not all of them are under anyone’s control. They may have learned resilience — that when life brings on hardships, do the best you can and keep going. They may have learned to enjoy their own company and that of their family members and friends. Not every moment in life is scheduled like a busy school day, and using time wisely and pleasurably requires thought and effort. They may have learned that not all food comes fully prepared from restaurants. More and more Americans cooked in during the pandemic, with families sitting down to meals together in ways we may not have done in years.

Only a handful of living Americans actually experienced the flu pandemic of 1918, and because they were children, they remember little of it. COVID-19 is fresh for all of us and will be for a long time — the fear, the sadness, the seclusion, the loneliness. We are changed people in so many ways, and we now know to appreciate our lives before COVID and after.

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