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Oregon Family Magazine

Welcome To the Year After

09/01/2021 ● By Joshua Hirschstein
I’ve spoken with many parents who are worried about the long-term learning consequences of last year’s pandemic-induced stay-at-home school year. How will they “catch up” after missing so much in-class time? Will my elementary/middle/high school child’s future abilities and opportunities be limited because of a “shallower” year of school-room study?

On one level: Yes. Some specific academic skills, no doubt, were not as meticulously developed for all our youth last year as have been in years past. Classroom teachers will be pressed this Fall to do more careful assessment and “review” when school returns. This is particularly true for subjects like math which is so sequential in its procedures and presentation.

However, on a larger scale – when we are two years forward and looking back – I believe we will see minimal impact on most every kid. After all, even without the traditional formal structure of in-school desk-time, kids have still been learning, developing, and experiencing. Regardless of schooling, children mature and become more cognitively able.

That is, our children’s developmental abilities continue to develop normally despite the threat of pandemic. Much of classroom teaching is more about steering the naturally-developing abilities of youth rather than creating those abilities. Take secondary math: Standard practice dictates that students need four full years to learn the traditional algebra sequence: pre-algebra, algebra 1, geometry, algebra 2. This requires completing some 600 daily assignments and over 50 chapter exams. Now take a person who did not enter the algebra sequence, but rather succeeded in basic math and then did not take another math class until age 18. Assuming the 18-year-old learner was motivated, those four years of skills could likely be mastered in a single semester.  The 18-year-old mind is developmentally far more able and practiced in abstract thinking than the 14 year old mind. [As an aside, one could query as to why almost everyone spends four years learning something that, a few years forward, could be learned in six months’ time…] 

Young people do not “become smarter” because teachers fill their heads with facts and solutions. Rather, teachers offer an attentive social setting and a variety of creative and logical-thinking activities to develop confidences, procedures, responsibilities, and experiences in line with the child’s naturally and consistently developing capabilities.

Three learning communities may have graver challenges and warrant more careful assessment and administration:

  • Learners with significant disabilities may need consistent in-person professional services to maintain developmental progress.
  • Some of our youngest learners (K-1) may be more impacted by the lack of opportunity to develop group social skills (“playground learning”) and settle into the rhythms of successful classroom participation.
  • This year’s college-bound seniors - the entering class of 2022 – have slightly modified application expectations as the SAT/ACT is again made optional at most schools, and as colleges adjust as to how they can best assess applicants given the breadth of last year’s unique circumstances.

Keeping learners engaged as best we could as parents and educators last year will mean teachers will certainly have some curriculum adjustments to start this school year, but I predict few kids will be significantly delayed in skill development after a couple months of normal classroom experience.  I do give the teachers of our region great kudos for what they accomplished this last year, and no doubt will be doing next.

Last school year was certainly a challenging year for everyone, and our kids have learned much about themselves and others within that experience itself. I firmly believe the future of our youth bodes well, and we all need to look forward to steering our young learners to intelligently seek opportunity and confidently meet the challenges they will face today and tomorrow.

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