Classroom Insights: First Semester Back

By: Michael Montes, Sr. Associate Director, Curriculum and Instruction

January 2022 brought about a sense of optimism for students and educators, yet, the ongoing pandemic brought a familiar sense of uncertainty. The spring semester got off to a rocky start after the rise in COVID cases over the holiday season. In schools, this meant constant absences among teachers and students as they had to self-quarantine. Testing for COVID in schools worked! But the surge in cases contributed to time away from the classroom for teachers and students alike.

While we may never truly know how students were affected by this uncertainty, from my experience of returning to the classroom, I would say students handled it like the rest of society: some better than others. Some students were rockstars the entire semester, unwavering in their determination to excel academically. Others seemed checked out, a phenomenon I had not seen in my almost five years at Fulfillment Fund. However, unlike virtual education, we saw all our students. The return to in-person instruction made me revisit an age-old question: how do I get 9th graders to care about college?

Returning to school was not a problem for me — I missed being face-to-face with students. Although, it was not the traditional face-to-face, since students were required to wear face masks. It was still great to be able to see, in real-time, how students engaged with our curriculum. I brought high energy and targeted goals to each lesson. Most students responded well, particularly when given time to discuss or share their thoughts on a specific topic with their peers. Getting student feedback in a lesson provides insight into what they know and don’t know, a critical piece that was, sadly, tremendously difficult during virtual learning. Learning from students allowed me to improve my delivery in each subsequent lesson.

As the semester went on, schools established a system that worked for most. Far from perfect, testing, masks, and quarantining allowed students to learn in person. While educators dealt with learning loss that occurred during the height of the pandemic, the College Access Program returned to basics and reestablished connections with students. From a learning perspective, this meant focusing on fundamental concepts like self-advocacy, grade point averages, and what to expect from high school. From a social-emotional perspective, I strived to support students and show empathy for their circumstances. Overall it has been a tough year for students, dealing with increased academic expectations from their classes to wearing masks for an entire day and adjusting to routine school protocols.

In all this craziness, the semester and the return to in-classroom curriculum delivery for Fulfillment Fund were a success! I like to think that my presentations helped students feel like they could succeed in high school and that striving for higher education is worth the effort. For students not yet sold on the idea of college, the coming school year brings a new opportunity to engage them in what we hope will be a less volatile environment to get them thinking about life after high school and beyond.

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