By: Michael Montes, Associate Director of Curriculum and Instruction
2020 has brought about many unforeseen changes. Among those most impacted by the pandemic are our students. With little to no preparation, they were ushered into a virtual learning landscape, foreign to them. Limited access to computers, internet, and a proper learning environment have served to exacerbate a confusing situation.
Since March, the school district, school administration, and teachers have made great strides to meet the needs of students and create a sense of normalcy. However, months into the school year, attendance and engagement remain a challenge that is more difficult to remedy. In this virtual environment, attendance consists of logging into Zoom classes. Virtual engagement challenges all students, but is exponentially more challenging for students that struggled in a traditional school setting.
During my Zoom classroom visits, across schools and grades, cameras are off and communication with students is limited to chat. Students with special needs, English language learners, and foster children are at the greatest disadvantage in this virtual environment. As an educator, this setting presents a challenge to tracking engagement and monitoring understanding.
In a traditional setting, teachers can adjust teaching to make it more equitable by checking for understanding. Formative assessments, like asking students to acknowledge that they understood something or by calling on students to share their perspective, help teachers make adjustments to ensure understanding. With limited visual and verbal communication, many supports for students are simply not possible.
As an educator and advocate of higher education, I fear that many students will be unable to be their best selves in a virtual setting and possibly fall behind. Failing classes in high school can lead to several negative consequences, including not having enough credits to graduate or not being eligible to certain universities. Several factors can contribute to students failing core classes in our virtual environment. Zoom fatigue, lack of consistent internet, limited academic supports, difficulty with technology, and limited support at home will all negatively impact our students.
However, this is not the time to throw our hands up and give up. There is much we can do to support our students and help bridge the educational and technological gaps. In addition to working with our school partners to support our students, we, at Fulfillment Fund, are intent and focused on helping students have success in high school and help build their college knowledge. More than ever, I find myself stressing the importance of attendance and reminding students about the importance of passing all their classes. I made changes to our curriculum to meet the needs of our students that include lessons that can help them during online learning. I also included lessons for high school seniors to help them with complex topics like financial aid and selecting college majors.
Having had the pleasure of working with our students in person, I know they have a strong desire to help others and make their community and the world a better place. I’m more committed than ever to ensuring that our students complete high school and find their best college option. There is no better time to support our students and make education a more equitable landscape. Better days will be here soon enough.