The coronavirus pandemic and learning loss

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HAMILTON COUNTY, Tenn. (WDEF) – It has been far from a normal year.

Hamilton County Schools have been working the challenge of trying to minimize the spread of COVID and holding classes virtually and in-person.

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“I think that it would be accurate to say there will be some learning loss, because we did shift to the virtual. We were providing it, but not every student was able to get on, but we’ve done a lot to change that. The district has done a lot. The county has come together, even the city now is providing funding to help with that to connect kids to the internet so that we can reach every child, and I think that we may have some, I don’t know how big it will be. There will be some loss. You can’t expect there not to be, just with the fact that not being in-person is very different,” Hamilton County Education Association President Jeanette Omarkhail said.

Data and information recently shared by the state projects decreases in learning among students starting the fall semester statewide.

“What we would traditionally refer to as the summer slide is compounded by the fact that we had three additional months of school closures and many of our students were learning remotely, again that is why it is so important for children to get back into the classrooms where the strongest learning can take place,” Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said in a media briefing on Wednesday.

“It is a projection. It is what they are thinking. It’s something they got from a think tank, but we have no way of knowing anything until our benchmark testing is done,” Omarkhail said.

While there might possibly be a learning loss, there are some students who might be actually benefiting from virtual learning.

“There are some students who thrive in this. There are some students who are very self-motivated or they have strong family support one form or another, whether it’s grandmother, mother, father, whoever and they are able to learn that way without the other distractions. We did see that in the spring, and I think that, that is one of the reasons they decided to go with this model,” Omarkhail said.

This year the district offered multiple virtual learning options for students.

“For some, they will discover, no this is not the best way for my child to learn, but sometimes you don’t know until you try,” Omarkhail said.

She said that educators and the district are looking at every avenue and while it has been an overwhelming time, if students are behind, they will do everything they can to bring them to where they need to be.

News 12 reached out to school board members to get their take on the state’s projections, and if they have concerns.

School Board Chairman Joe Wingate:

My thoughts are that I am thankful that our school system not only started the academic year on time, but also has worked to remain open both in person and online while many of the larger school systems in our state either opened later or have yet to provide an in person option for their communities.  The ability to outpace our peers can be attributed to the pre-planned work of the school district and the many community partners involved the reopening task force.

School Board Member Rhonda Thurman:

This absolutely breaks my heart. I am not surprised at all by these numbers. Also, I bet the achievement gap has widened even more than ever. Children need to be in school, especially the at-risk students and those with IEPs. This is a classic example of the cure being worse than the disease. We will never bridge the gap this loss of learning has caused. Sad that fear has had such a life-long impact on students.

School Board Member Joe Smith:

Of course i am concerned! Our district has worked hard to get our kids back in school every day in the safest ways possible. There are some districts in our state and across the country that are still not back in the classroom! I just hope and pray that parents that have chosen HCS at home or virtual learning are spending the necessary time with their child to insure they are getting what they need and are not falling behind!