Learning Curve: A year of change due to COVID-19

Learning Curve: A year of change due to COVID-19

KNOX, Ind. - As teachers are finally starting to get vaccinated across Michiana, it’s a welcome sign for many school staff, students, and families that normalcy is slowly returning.

But it’s also important to take a look back at this last school year and what we’ve learned so far.

"We're headed back to my house. It's after school after practice," Gunner Wagner, one Knox student said on the way home from school. “I had golf practice today.”

We first spoke to Gunner last August in one of the first weeks students returned in-person at Knox Schools. 

“We’re going to the high school," he said on the car ride to school. "I’ll be a senior this year. I’m ready to see everybody.”

“He's just ready to get back to somewhat of a normal life as normal as it can be for, you know, the times that we're in," Rebekah Wagner, Gunner's mom said.

“The whole world knows that too anything can change just like that it all has," Gunner said. "I’m hoping this senior year is as normal as it can be.”

As much as high school senior Gunner Wagner and his family wanted normalcy last August... this year was far from it.

"It has been unique it's just, it's kind of took us by storm, I guess,” Rebekah said.

 “I didn't, I didn't think we were going to be able to get a whole school year," Gunner said. “I thought everybody was going to get covid and everybody would be worried and we just go virtual.”

Masks and social distancing, just a daily reminder of what the world is facing right now.

Today, March 11th, now marking its spot in history books.

"The first anniversary of COVID-19 being declared a pandemic. And so as we reflect back. We're grateful for a lot of things. We're grateful for our employees. We're grateful for our teachers," South Bend Community School Corporation Superintendent Dr. Todd Cummings said.

But what have we seen this year? What have we learned from one of the toughest years in recent history?

Well, for Superintendent Dr. Cummings... there’s a lot.

"We've learned a lot about ourselves and knowing that we need to make sure our families are connected, that our families have access to food, and that our teachers have the resources that they need to be innovative and be creative in teaching students on the internet," he said.

"It happened so fast, reflecting back in that time, we weren't fully one-to-one, not all of our students had devices we had never had an eLearning day," Sarah Hickle, Assistant Superintendent for the School City of Mishawaka said. “We've come a long way."

Thousands of dollars later and even Superintendent Sarah Hickle says the goal is the same - making sure students aren’t lagging behind.

"We had to think about how do we ensure that in the absence of being in our buildings. Our students can still receive education, how do we connect our teachers and our students in ways that they had yet to practice. And that we hadn't planned for," she said. “And I really think that set us up so that we didn't see learning loss in that time period but rather what we call a slide, more similar to like summer. We've tried to address those in different ways changing our schedule. Adding intentional periods of time that are for remediation and getting extra help.”

"We know that our students have spent a year surviving the pandemic. And as we welcome them back we want to meet them where they are," Cummings said. “Making sure they're reading on grade level, making sure they're ready to graduate. And those are the things that we want to focus on both now and then as we look at next year as well.”

But Hickle says trying to get back to where we were educationally is an impossible task.

“I think that what a lot of people are concerned about and asking are they up to par, is trying to take students and compare them to previous years, which isn't a fair comparison right the norm has changed," she said. “Being able to say, have we prepared them. And are they ready for that next step? And I'm confident we can do that.”

Right now both South Bend and Mishawaka Schools aren't fully in person yet.

"We're back four days a week and after spring break fully in person five days a week," Hickle said. "To think that here we are. A year later, and we're just now preparing to have 100% of them back. Looks really different than we could have ever imagined.”

It’s been a long road but there is a spark of reassurance that this pandemic is nearing its end.

"It's honestly, I feel like it's starting to get back to normal," Gunner said.

As teachers are starting to get vaccinated in Indiana...

"We're so excited that we are at a place now where we're getting ready to give our teachers and staff their second dose," Cummings said.

You have to think... when will students be next?

School City of Mishawaka Superintendent Wayne Barker tells me student vaccinations are still up in the air. It ultimately falls on the parents to decide, but as for requiring vaccination to attend school this fall, that would be up to the state.

As for Gunner and his family, they have big steps ahead.

For that story, you can go to our website at abc57.com and click the Learning Curve tab.

Any questions regarding schools? Reach out to us! Learningcurve@abc57.com.

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