A look at how COVID affected elementary school students in Marion

As the whole world has learned to adapt to a virtual and distant life during the COVID-19 pandemic, preschool education has been hit hard by challenges far exceeding the need to adapt to a living environment. digital learning.

The effects of the pandemic on school districts in Marion County are ongoing as districts, including Ridgedale, river valley and Marion city reinstated mask mandates for the remainder of the 2021-22 school year.

Nationally, the pandemic has not only contributed to loss of learning due to “unfinished learning”, a term to describe how students have not been fortunate enough to have the education they would have in a typical year, but also a negative emotional toll increased stress of digital or blended learning and parenting instruction.

According to a report from the Office of Civil Rights of the United States Department of Education, school closures and social isolation have significantly weakened students’ mental and emotional well-being, with students overwhelmingly reporting heightened negative feelings during the pandemic , even among those who reported less severe responses.

Student mental health issues in Marion County

In Marion County, these trends are consistent, with the social and emotional toll proving to be a major concern for schools in the town of Marion, according to Superintendent Ron Iarussi.

“As resilient as our children were, it affected their social and emotional state,” he said.

Marion City Schools is taking the time to address this concern now that students are back in class and interacting with their peers and teachers, said Iarussi. The district is equipped with a social worker in each building and actively refers students and families to counseling services in the area, including OhioGuidestone and The Marion Village Network.

Academic demotion: meeting the need for foundational skills

Over the past three years, Marion City Schools has worked to improve its literacy program in order to improve the literacy rate of its students. During the pandemic, the district made changes to the curriculum to address key areas of concern, including students developing the ability to hear and manipulate sound sequences of language, an essential skill for learning to read.

A McKinley Elementary student chooses a book from the school library.

In July 2020, Marion City Schools received a state literacy block grant of nearly $ 1 million towards the development of this literacy program.

As part of its literacy campaign, the neighborhood adopted the “Let’s read 20“success plan, encouraging students to read for 20 minutes each day to develop their reading skills and prepare for better performance and better results.

Diane Watson, communications manager at the Marion Public Library, described Let’s Read 20 and the library’s goal of starting reading sooner.

“This is an initiative where we are spreading the word that reading 20 minutes a day can have a significant impact on a child’s life,” Watson said.

The library usually organizes events where it raises awareness about the initiative and distributes books to students. During the pandemic, however, the library was unable to organize such events, placing more emphasis on parents being the main catalyst in their children’s learning to read.

Library programming has resumed for this school year, offering events to the community of Marion, such as her weekly Storytelling hours for children aged 2 to 5. The library will continue to hold these events as long as people feel safe enough to attend, according to Watson.

Storytime at the Marion Public Library helps young readers learn to read.

Local agencies come together to help bridge the learning gap

The Marion County Family and Children First Council works to help meet the needs of children with issues that cannot be served by any agency. It is used to identify and fill gaps in services, especially to meet the needs of students who are late during the pandemic.

Haley Wilkes, Coordinator of Counseling Services, explained a significant link between loss of learning in students and the lack of structure caused by virtual learning: Students were used to what in-person teachers now have to learn from. their parents or computers.

“We were wondering how to prevent further slippage when it comes to their education? Wilkes said.

The board answered that question by working with every school in Marion County and working to encourage students to adopt a classroom-like structure at home, according to Wilkes. It also found success with creative programs and hosting monthly meetings where students could give feedback on how they were doing.

Wilkes described his favorite thing the board does for its students and the success it has had with COVID-19: equestrian therapy, in partnership with a local equestrian nonprofit, the Providence Therapeutic Equestrian Center.

Through this program, council students could read or practice sight words with one of the horses of Providence.

Jackson Brown, one of the students at Marion County Family and Children First Council, enjoys equestrian therapy at the Providence Therapeutic Equestrian Center, where he often works his reading, visual words and math.

Providence Executive Director Lori Kepford described the need to reorganize its services due to declining volunteer numbers and the COVID-19 pandemic, spawning the Read to a Horse program for students.

“It was just an explosion in their desire to read and in their cognition,” Kepford said. It was just amazing how much their desire to read has grown because of this horse. “

Uncertainty moves forward

Yet the pandemic has affected the resources available in Marion County just as it has affected students in the county.

For the region’s Head Start program, an early education program for income-eligible children with special needs ages 6 weeks to 5 years, served by the Ohio Heartland Community Action Commission, the pandemic is causing always closures and uncertainty.

“The staff were patient. In the past you wouldn’t shut down a classroom for any reason. Now it’s so common,” said Andrew “Joe” Devany, executive director of the School Board. Ohio Heartland Community Action.

With eight classrooms currently closed due to a sick child in Marion, Crawford, Morrow and Richland counties, the Head Start program is a reminder that the future of in-person learning is still uncertain, with communities still seeing a new COVID-19 case across Ohio and in Marion County.

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