Education during a pandemic – the academic gap

Six months have passed since the US closed businesses and schools in an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Schools across the nation shifted to distance learning in March 2020. What started out as a temporary closure turned into the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. The quality and time of direct instruction varied between schools. As summer turned to fall, schools were still dealing with balancing the scale of educating and managing a public health situation.

While schools across the nation worked hard to deliver quality education, nothing can replace the quality of education that occurs in the classroom. Relationships developed with teachers and the interaction with classmates brings a richness to the learning experience. Knowing this, combined with the potential academic gap that can occur with long-term school closures, we prioritized creating a safe campus re-opening plan to bring students back to the classroom.

Dr. Locklear, Head of School interviews Principals Mr. Bronson and Miss Washburn to discuss the quality of learning and the efforts to mind the academic gap during a global pandemic. Listen in or read a shortened transcript below.

Dr. Locklear: As I have reflected over the past several months, the next pandemic following COVID-19 may well be a pandemic that surrounds education. It really forces us to begin thinking about the academic gap. And as we process what that gap looks like, we have learned for most students, online learning in education is not a replacement for live instruction. However, when we have to pivot to remote instruction, the quality of live, online instruction is paramount and will have long-term impacts.

So what I want to talk about today is everything that we’re doing to make sure that we ensure the academic growth of your children. First and foremost, learning doesn’t happen by accident. And we do not that to be any less important than anything else. At the end of the day, making sure that your students are safe and healthy, but also receiving a great education is truly important to us. Next, we just want to make sure that the engagement in the classroom is quality and that quality learning is happening and that our students are thriving, not just surviving. Next is the social and emotional support that students are receiving. Being a part of a group, being a part of a classroom. And that is probably the number one reason for for their excitement to be back.

And the final thing is at New Life Academy, we’re truly trying to be prepared for anything. If needed, we’re ready to pivot and make that shift to FLEXed continuous learning with high quality live instruction. This brings the greatest success in mitigating the learning gaps that we’ve talked about. So whether we’re in person, all online, or somewhere in between, our academic programing will prepare your children to be faith-filled and future ready. And that’s very important as we navigate this time. But more importantly, as we look out a year from now – students will have progressed in learning during this time.

Miss Washburn: In thinking about traditional education, we have to think about it in more than one way. We have to take in the needs of our students for the emotional, social, spiritual, and educational well-being. Being in person at school we can address and work on each of these in class. Time is important for children as they develop relationships with their teachers, seeing the care that they have for them, being positive role models so that they can learn to respect authority. Making friends and learning to respect their classmates helps develop lifelong skills that will serve them throughout their life. And that starts in the lower grades. Here at New Life, we are working with our students on a daily basis to nurture and grow their understanding of the Lord through Bible class chapels and service projects that help kids see the needs of others. New Life wants to partner with families along with the church, to be a united front for the Lord. And educationally we see the importance of the classroom as teachers can understand how each child learns and work with them where they’re at, and not have a one size fits all mentality and new library differentiate learning to the needs of each time varied activities and engaged children happen daily. From independent work, group work, varied experiences of music, art, Spanish PE and exposure to steam activities, which develop your child to grow into the promise in our mission statement of educating them to impact the world for Jesus Christ. We are blessed and humbled to work with your children each and every day and do not take that responsibility lightly.

Mr. Bronson: We’re really seeing a lot of those same themes that Miss Washburn was bringing up. For myself personally, seeing students come into the building every morning, kids smiling at each other and students talking about what they’re going to be learning about academically in class and who said what, funny comment in class. And really, we recognize that learning becomes a social construct. It’s a relational piece between teacher and a group of students in a classroom. We’re also seeing our chapel band be able to perform on the stage with each other, streaming that out in the classrooms where the students and sing corporately worship songs together has been really a joy for us to see in our building. There is some great learning that goes on when kids are in the classroom. And so we are seeing the lab activities ramp up, students interacting across their desks where they have a chance to learn cooperatively and a teacher is there to guide them through and help nudge them in the right direction or ask those insightful questions. We’re really seeing that this the teachers can can bring those experiences in the classroom. The students have that chance to interact and hang out with all their peers as they learn together in their classes.

Mr. Bronson on FLEXed: We recognize that in this pandemic, we will have students that can’t be physically in the building with us. And we have had the ability to invite those students in when they log into their school account at school and then they have a link there where they can join that class virtually. The teacher then basically incorporates that student virtually into the class. Where I’m seeing students engage in the class learning just the other day, we’re in a classroom where some kids we’re working on a lab activity and one of the group with their lab was virtually present and they just had a phone there. And so they could see them on that screen. The student was interacting with the other students as they discussed what was going on in that particular lab activity. And so it’s not quite as great as being shoulder to shoulder in the classroom, but it’s so close and they get that chance to interact with their peers. And then that teacher can interact with that student individually as they talk back and forth throughout the class. And then because they’re connected electronically already, that allows them to work with any of the assignments that are there, any of those quizzes or assessments. And so it’s as close as we can get to really having that full interaction of a classroom just across a digital divide there.

Dr. Locklear: Your children’s future is more important than ever. We continually think about this. We can’t let school uncertainties impact our children’s academic progress and growth. No matter what school looks like, our highly trained teachers, those people that show up every day and work so hard are dedicated to your children – helping them learn and grow and develop academically and spiritually. It gets back to kingdom education where we are truly working on the Faith Foundation, the spirit within your children, the academic growth, the family and all of that existing and working within the community of New Life Academy.