The Lost Year: Setbacks and Successes for Students

Published: Feb. 9, 2021 at 6:23 PM EST
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ELKHART, Ind. (WNDU) - Ask any parent of a struggling student what this school year is like and you’ll probably get the same answer. It’s rough.

With so many kids in an educational tailspin, this seems like a wasted year. Or is it?

For the next two weeks, WNDU is digging deeper with our special report- The Lost Year: Setbacks and Successes. We’re taking a closer look at what can be done for the failing student.

“I love school but it’s kinda hard,” said 10-year-old Nevaeh. “Because we’re only going two days a week.”

Nevaeh is a 4th grader at Mary Daly Elementary in Elkhart, Indiana. She struggles with e-learning days at home.

“My hardest subject is mostly math,” said Nevaeh. “My struggle with math is mostly multiplication.”

“I’m seeing her performance and I’m just afraid she’s going to have to redo her grade,” said Nevaeh’s mom, Shelby Choquette.

When Nevaeh’s grades first came in, warning bells went off.

“It’s just not the same as it would be if it were all in-person,” said Choquette. “It’s hard. It’s not normal for these children. I really feel for everybody who has kids.”

Choquette is not the only worried parent. School systems across the country are reporting record numbers of kids are failing at least one subject. National research indicates the subject most at risk is math. That’s the case at Mary Daly too.

“Wetry to provide in class support,” said Mary Daly principal Joshua Nice. His teachers meet weekly to assess student progress and provide support for those at risk.

“We’re a Title One school and we try to use the extra money to provide a second tier of assistance to those kids.”

There’s also technology support.

Elkhart Community School Corporation has around 20 WiFi enabled school buses parked in Elkhart neighborhoods to serve as hotspots.

In addition, the district has WiFi enabled iPads for students to use.

“We actually still have some available so we’re trying to spread the word on those to our families if you don’t have WiFi, if it’s a struggle for your family, we have those tools available to help you,” said Elkhart Community School Corporation Communications Director Brenda Kolbe.

Community resources are a big help too.

Tutoring is available through the Elkhart Public Education Foundation’s Edcamp at the Elkhart ETHOS Innovation Center and Elkhart County’s Boys and Girls Club Academy.

Schools like Mary Daly offer math support too.

“Students aren’t completing work for the most part not because they don’t want to,” said teacher Tracy Kelm. “It’s because they don’t know how.”

Tracy Kelm has been a teacher at Mary Daly for 31 years; the last five in math intervention.

She says families need that extra support.

“I think you just reassure them and step in and help and say ‘Hey, I know she doesn’t go to school this day but I’m going to call on her and we’re going to work on this together.’ I think this is one of the biggest things we can do to help these frail learners is that they have the consistency of the daily touch-in and check-in and make sure they understand and it helps with the retention,” said Kelm.

What helps the most? Educators and parents agree, being in school.

The distractions at home are often a big problem.

“We’ve had some great families who get their kids started and then they leave the room to do something and they come back and the kid is on YouTube,” said Nice. “They’re doing the best they can to get started. But those distractions of technology are like nothing we’ve experienced before.”

“I encourage parents to set regular intervals of checking in with their kids if they can. If you just leave your kid for an hour or so, to attend class, kids are going to be kids, it’s normal. We just need to be doing regular interval check-ins to make sure they’re still tuning in,” said Nice.

For Nevaeh, it’s a different distraction.

“My two little brothers,” said Nevaeh. “They’re crazy!”

She appreciates the extra help from school.

“Mrs. Kelm. Yeah, she helps a lot!” said Nevaeh.

Nevaeh’s grades have improved. And the extra help will continue as long as she needs it.

Other kids may not see the same results and Mr. Nice says those families should keep everything in perspective.

“When you talk about ‘fail,’ right now, look…it’s a pandemic. It’s unusual,” said Nice. “I think with each family at the end of the year we need to have a personal conversation. Was school just too challenging? Were you not able to do the online stuff?”

“We talk about retention as a consequence often,” said Nice. “I think this year we need to re-frame it and say ‘What happened this last year and what does my child need?’.”

And while this may seem like a lost year, Mr. Nice says it’s actually a building block for the future.

“No moment invested in a child is to be considered lost,” explained Nice. “We’re seeing growth, character, and resilience in academics and it’s been a time for action research for our staff. We’ve had less time with the kids so we’ve had to focus on what works well and make the best use of our time. And I trust the lesson we learn this year will be a better investment in how we educate next year.”

Measuring success, with each and every child.

When will students go back to in-person learning? That will depend on district decisions based on community health metrics, ability to physically distance and input from staff and families. For now, they will continue with their hybrid learning and e-learning plans. If you’re an Elkhart family in need of assistance with tutoring, technology or better WiFi, click on these helpful links:

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