As plans begin for a return to in-person schooling potentially this spring in some form, the temptation is to leave all that happened under remote learning behind and plow into normal life and in-person education once again.
However, Supt. Priya Tahiliani said this week that the COVID vaccine – which she said has provided a “light at the end of the tunnel” – won’t be a shot back to March 2020 normalcy, but rather a moon-shot into a new kind of 21st Century education that combines all that is good about remote learning with an enhanced in-person model.
Education after COVID-19 looks to be more flexible, and more individualized, she said, with all sorts of combinations of learning happening.
“We have to take the lessons we’ve learned from this and make sure we don’t forget them,” she said. “It should become a new and improved way of doing things. School Committee viewership is up online and there are so many benefits…We have to maximize opportunities for everyone. The places we’re seeing some students flourish, how do we maintain that? There are so many possibilities for alternative education, credit recovery and advanced opportunities. This will be huge for us and moving forward education can be more individualized…This has plunged us into uncomfortable spaces where we weren’t ready to (go). It’s forced us into it and we are forced into 21st Century education.”
That has been no more apparent than in the “one-to-one” rollout of computer devices and internet for every students. That was not available in Everett just in 2019, and was a long-term plan for Tahiliani when she took the job in December 2019. Now, it’s nearly old news as every student in Everett that wants a computer device has one to access remote learning. That, she said, is here to stay and only a small example of what’s to come.
She said they have learned there are many learners who have flourished during the pandemic with remote learning, and that might be a better style for them going into the future.
“I know we’re seeing both sides of the coin with students,” she said. “That’s expected given different learning styles. We’re seeing some students flourish now that didn’t do so in the past. We’ve seen English Learners…you can encourage student dialog and writing a lot more than with students in front of you. So we see some students flourish during this time, and other students where the model doesn’t work for them at all.”
The trick will be to move forward into in-person learning in the near future, and not lose some of the unexpected magic that was discovered. It wouldn’t be fair, she said, to tell students who have benefitted that the schools are going back to the old way where they struggled. So, a new frontier merging the old world and the new world of education will be essential.
However, Tahiliani said while there are pluses, there are a whole lot of minuses. Many students that were very good scholars with in-person learning have not responded well to the remote learning. A number of students have caved under the social-emotional pressure and isolation that COVID-19 has brought. Still others have had life circumstances that made it nearly impossible to consider succeeding in school.
She said next year is going to be about investing a lot in the kids and making sure they are supported and that healing takes place.
“What we’re doing going forward is figuring out how do we support the students that did benefit,” she said. “We want to make sure we don’t go backwards to old ways for them. Then, what do we also do for students whose grades have dropped? A lot of times it’s social-emotional support. I know it’s on everyone’s mind and we are providing targeted support. It’s a real concern.”
Already, she said, next year’s plans are much different when it comes to supporting the students coming back and those looking to merge new technology into their educational program. All, she said, are going to need healing from the effects of the pandemic. She said they are looking to invest in robust after-school and in-school programming, as well as more interventionists.
“Next year, it’s not going to be the same model,” she said.
That brings up another question that is being talked about on the horizon, and that is what to do with letter grades from this year. Many educators and students and families have advocated for dropping letter grades this year as so many students have struggled to keep up with their normal performance. However, others have done better. It’s a question Tahiliani said maybe they’re not yet ready to answer.
“It’s a great question,” she said.