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Making strides in post-pandemic education

We’re now halfway through the most typical school year we have had since March of 2020, although typical isn’t something any of us who lived through the COVID-19 pandemic will likely take for granted again.

Photo of Mike MoanRegardless of circumstances, education is something we cherish and believe is a basic right for all students. We won’t pretend that despite everyone’s best efforts, children across the globe weren’t impacted by the pandemic both in academics and social emotional growth.

Not every child was impacted in the same way, but all were impacted in some way. While it’s true that children are resilient, it’s not enough to simply move forward as if nothing had happened. While District 200 students on the whole are doing better than many, it remains our goal that each of our students reach his or her full potential regardless of circumstances.

For us, that’s a philosophy that predated the pandemic. Regardless of gender, race, socio-economic status or language barriers, we believe all children can learn. It’s our job as educators to remove barriers, fight through obstacles — to create a learning environment where our children can thrive.

Interruptions to traditional schooling and other stressors during the pandemic were just new barriers, new impediments. But the barriers are nothing that schools and students can’t overcome, and we’re already seeing evidence that the efforts of our staff are making a positive impact.

Some of these efforts predate the pandemic, but most are new strategies that we’ve implemented to close any gaps in learning among hundreds of students across grade levels. 

  • At all levels we have added support outside of the normal academic day to assist our students and to close any educational gaps created by the pandemic.  At the elementary school level, there are several afterschool programs addressing math, STEM, and digital literacy. Two distinct programs tackle literacy at the second- and third- as well as fourth- and fifth- grade levels. Professional development for our staff has included careful study of the science of reading and phonics to improve these skills.

  • All elementary students also get WIN (What I Need) time to focus on their individual needs in small group settings.  More than 20 percent of our students and families take advantage of time outside of the normal school day to build academic skills and readiness. 

  • At the middle school and high school levels we have added blended math opportunities for students to work on skills with our teachers in addition to their scheduled math classes. We continue to offer support in and out of the classroom for our high school students to prepare for the SAT test. The dedication of our students, families and staff in and out of the classroom allows us to close academic gaps created during the pandemic. 

  • We’ve added more social workers to our ranks to make sure our students’ social and emotional needs are being met and to close gaps in maturity that developed over the course of the pandemic. We added a district behavior specialist to work with and support our students and our staff. The specialist works on effective and appropriate intervention strategies to deescalate extreme behaviors that became more common in a post-pandemic setting.

  • We have paid for these positions with federal relief funds for pandemic support.  These additional positions and opportunities for our students have come without an increase in our spending or an increased burden on our taxpayers. 

What’s been reinforced now, during and since the pandemic began is that education must adapt as we all adapt as a society. What we taught and how we taught 10, 20 or 50 years ago, might look different today. While we might be teaching much of the same subject matter, the delivery methods must be flexible to align with student needs.

We will always meet students where they are, but we will also push them toward what we know they can become. Often, we need to re-sharpen our tools to reach that goal. We look forward to the day when the pandemic is a distant memory for our students and not an event that impedes their academic progress.  

We are extremely grateful for the support of our families who have also made sacrifices to allow their children to receive some specific instruction outside of normal school hours to push them toward and above their grade-level expectations. We’re fortunate that this community values education and understands that the partnership with our schools is necessary to provide their children with the best experience and education possible.

  • Mike Moan is the superintendent of schools for Woodstock Community Unit School District 200.