By Jason Carroll and Meridith Edwards, CNN
Lewis Echevarria dreams of becoming a lawyer, specializing in immigration law or constitutional law. A college student, he was already planning to apply to Rutgers University in his home state of New Jersey. But that was before the pandemic.
When the students were sent home and everyone switched to virtual learning, he tried to do the best he could.
âI did my homework on my phone for two or three months,â he told CNN.
“It was horrible having to navigate from Google Classroom to Google Docs back to Google Classroom.” He would display documents on his TV screen to view them before resuming typing on his phone.
Echevarria’s work suffered. âMy grades have dropped dramatically, across the board,â he said.
His school district in Camden gave him a laptop for his first year, but he struggled to motivate himself.
âI didn’t think I was going to do well this year because my grades went down. It was difficult for me to concentrate. It was difficult for me even to want to get up from my bed, just to go and sit in front of a computer, âhe said.
“There have been many times that I have wanted to give up education.”
Echevarria’s problems were recognized by his teachers at Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy, who reached out to him to get him back on track.
But he’s far from alone, and many students may not be able to bounce back that strong.
Katrina McCombs, Camden City School District superintendent, says the local dynamics of graduation versus drop-out were heading in the right direction before last year. Now the disruption of the pandemic can begin to be measured.
âJust like the rest of the students in the state of New Jersey, we envision a performance drop of about 30 percentage points, focused on mastering standards,â she said.
âAnd we know it’s important for students to master the skills at their grade level as they enroll, to prepare them for success later on. “
The district plans to use additional federal as well as state bailout funds to get more teachers to spend time with students who need help.
âThe key is teamwork,â said Nicole Harrigan, principal of K-8 HB Wilson Family School, also in Camden. âIt has to be the students, the parents, the administration, the teachers, all of us working together to do this work, to get them where they need to be. As long as we are all working together, it is possible to help them. Now they might not be where they should be, but they can get closer to where they need to be.
Schools in Camden, one of New Jersey’s poorest areas, were closed for more than a year, while in other parts of the country classes resumed earlier. And that could have an impact on the students.
“What we predict is that the longer the students are out, the more they have been exposed to virtual instruction, the more severe the impact is likely to be,” said Sandy Addis, president of the National Dropout Prevention Center. .
âThe long-term impact of this pandemic shutdown will be well over a year. Students at all grade levels have experienced a learning loss. And it’s not just the learning loss for this current year. Many of them have lost development ground, especially the younger ones, âhe warned.
While school loss can show up in grades, Addis said the solutions weren’t as simple as teaching the solution to problems. Children also lost emotional and social skills, and for some, school may have been the best and safest part of their day. Losing this will have been costly.
Addis stressed the importance of keeping children with the rest of their peers rather than holding them back to repeat, calling the retention a “kiss of death for graduation.”
Students who are a year older than the rest of their classmates feel out of place and are much more likely to drop out in higher grades, he said. And that could maintain the impact of the pandemic on children for years after they return to class.
New Jersey teenager Echevarria is once again planning to graduate on time as part of his high school class of 2022. He says he’s now more confident after overcoming the challenges of virtual learning.
But he wants his final year to be in class and seems almost nostalgic for the school building he’s been out of since March 2020.
âAs you walk through these hallways you realize that you are in school, you are here to learn,â he said.