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Challenges and hopes for education amid COVID-19

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Posted at 4:10 PM, Mar 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-11 13:25:03-05

TULSA, Okla. — It's been nearly one year since students and teachers left for spring break and did not return to the classroom for months.

Some spent almost an entire year in distance learning.

“Even as a science teacher, this isn’t even close to anything I ever imagined," said Heidi Launius, a biology teacher at the Union Freshman Academy.

Students, teachers and parents forced to adjust in March 2020 as not just home-schooled kids, but all kids, began learning from home. To protect them from a new, sometimes deadly virus called COVID-19.

“The challenges weren’t just how do we adapt to a different style of learning, but how do we change our entire lives?" said Shane Saunders, who has two children in Tulsa Public Schools.

Juggling virtual classes and life at home became a challenge for students. Saunders said he saw a big change in his kids when they were away from the classroom.

“Distance learning, they’re somewhat withdrawn," Saunders said. "It was tedious. It was a task versus being excited to get up and go to school.”

Teachers also noticed the difference.

“It is so quiet," Launius said. "There are no students in here. There’s no laughter. I missed that.”

While Launius' students are now back in the classroom, it’s not the same. Instead of desks grouped together in fours, they’re now spread out.

“Now it’s tough to get them to talk to each other because they’re so far apart," she said. "And they’re not in these nice little communities with each other.”

One of Launius’ biggest challenges is getting students engaged and learning without some of the typical hands-on activities.

“We did an activity today where normally they are up and they’re moving around the classroom," she said. "And, instead, it was just manipulating some stuff at their desk rather than being able to get up and move. It’s hard.”

Another challenge is making sure those students stuck in quarantine are still learning.

“I have a quarantine Zoom so they can Zoom in during their hour," Launius said. "So, they can still get direct instruction. But it’s just not the same as being able to sit in the classroom, be around your peers and interact with everybody including me.”

If there is anything good to come out of this, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said it’s that families are now better engaged with their child’s education. She said, moving forward, one of the focuses will be on high-quality digital education.

“This is presenting then a time of change and flexibility and providing different instructional modalities that really no one had an opportunity to prepare for ahead of time," Hofmeister said.

Closing what Hofmeister calls “the homework gap" and focusing on connectivity for families without internet in their homes.

“We need to keep addressing that," Hofmeister said. "This can’t just be that we had some hotspots available for families and then that is no longer needed because we returned to classrooms. It really underscores a need that’s been there all along. And connectivity will remain a top priority.”

Launius hopes there will be a bit more normalcy this time next year.

“I will take wearing a mask if I can have my students back in their groups and able to get up and move around," Launius said.

Saunders hopes TPS will keep students in classrooms after being in distance learning for nearly a year. He feels there’s a long road ahead, but both he and Launius agree, there's hope for the future.

"It looks different, it feels different, but they're still there among their peers and among their teachers and they're super excited," Saunders said. "You know, the smiles on their faces. It's just a relief."

"Kids are resilient," Launius said. "They’re going to bounce back from this.”

Districts are working to help students who might be behind because of this year. State Superintendent Hofmeister said they’re working on summer programming to get those students caught up. For instance, TPS is expanding learning opportunities this spring, summer and fall. You can check with your child's district to find out its plans.

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