Special Section: A year of Covid-19 » OUR LOST YEAR

The pandemic's school daze

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At the beginning of the pandemic, all schools moved to remote learning. Most districts are now using a hybrid blend of in-person and online instruction for students. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • At the beginning of the pandemic, all schools moved to remote learning. Most districts are now using a hybrid blend of in-person and online instruction for students.
The 12-month COVID-19 pandemic is often described as a “lost year,” and perhaps nowhere has that been felt more than in the country’s schools.

When schools, colleges, and universities closed down in March 2020, the thinking was it was temporary, with some officials talking about a two-week shutdown. But as it became clear the pandemic would carry on well beyond that time frame, institutions switched students — from elementary schoolers to college post-grads — to remote learning.

It was a rocky transition. Instructors and school administrators had to figure out how to conduct lessons on video conferencing platforms, and they had to work with parents to figure out how to get students the hardware, software, and internet connections they needed.

The problems were particularly acute, and remain so, in Rochester public schools, where many students didn’t have adequate internet access in their homes. The school district provided students with mobile Wi-Fi devices and Chromebooks, but the reviews have been mixed.

Parents were in unfamiliar territory, as they had to assume some teaching roles, often while they were still working. Students suffered because they weren’t around their classmates throughout the day, and because clubs and sports were put on hold.

This fall, universities and colleges reopened their campuses to students, though every school is using a combination of in-person and online instruction so as to keep space between everyone in classrooms and labs.



Many public school districts took a similar hybrid approach, though the Rochester City School District used remote learning for most students through part of February.

After a year of remote learning, school districts and families are still working through kinks. Districts have struggled with student attendance in some cases, while some students have found it difficult to remain engaged in online classes. One day in January, a person logged into a Penfield middle school virtual classroom from Indiana and posted racial slurs in the chat section.

There are those who champion remote learning and see potential for it to provide a better learning environment for students who are easily distracted or for students who do better when they can learn at their own pace.

But online learning’s detractors have been more vocal. Their argument is a simple one: that a screen is no substitute for face-to-face instruction as well as in-person interaction with teachers and classmates. There are tangible and intangible benefits to the school environment, which provides the kind of socialization that COVID-19 robbed from most everyone.

Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at jmoule@rochester-citynews.com.

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