There have been a multitude of topics in the news about COVID-19 and school closures, and no shortages of opinions either. Lately I have been reading and thinking about young kids and what impact this prolonged period of distanced learning is going to have on their education overall. As an aspiring teacher and current education student here at Fairfield, this topic has been deeply discussed in all of my education classes since last spring. The effects of this long-term schooling are going to be more dramatic than we can even imagine, and for that reason, elementary and middle schools need to reopen for in-person instruction as soon as possible.
There is no doubt in my mind that prolonged school closures will have long term effects on children, especially those in elementary schools and those in special education programs. These groups are the most vulnerable to falling behind. Students learning to read and write, for example, need constant feedback in order to learn the skills needed to decode words as well as the constant supervision of repetition of form in order to build muscle memory. Even things like the social skills that young kids learn in schools are now being missed during online schooling, and there is no measurement for this kind of thing. There has been the loss of all of the in-person experiences, not just in the class, but even in after school activities and clubs that kids need in order to grow. We will never know how students have been affected by these times and by the moments that have been stolen from them. Many parents and teachers have no idea how to connect with students and make them excited about learning again in a year of educational fatigue. As a student myself, I can completely understand how most students are feeling exhausted from a year of looking at screens in order to learn. These moments are so necessary for the skills that students need for the rest of their education, and without these foundational skills, who knows how they will be able to succeed.
What makes me bring this up is the shocking amount of schools that remain unopened. In the public school system of New York City, one of the biggest in the country, only 15 percent of students are back doing some kind of in-person learning. This is despite the fact most studies have shown that students of the elementary school age are able to be in school without there being an increase in COVID-19 cases in the area. To me, this means that the small risk that reopening schools would cause is worth it, considering the reward that the students would receive. In a study by the New York Times, it was found that pedestrians focused on public health largely agree that opening elementary and middle schools have no great risk to the public. I think that the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. I think that the students, and most teachers feel the same in terms of needing some kind of interaction in order to keep learning and being productive.
As a college student, I have been able to witness how hybrid learning can work and allow students the in-person experiences that we are all craving by now. I was in many classes last semester that had at least some kind of in-person experience and it made all the difference. To know that my professors knew me, and that I could connect with people in my class for the first time was such an amazing feeling. I think that schools need to open safely as soon as possible!