Student motivation declines as missing assignments rise

GOSHEN, Ind. - Imagine your child was getting A's and B’s, a great student, but that's before the pandemic. Now, for some, you’re lucky to get them online at all. Grades dip and so does attendance. Well, that’s the reality for some parents in Michiana and now it’s forcing everybody to play catch-up.

It seems not too long ago everything was normal in Heidi Bentzer’s kid's lives.

They played sports, got good grades, and were active in their school lives.

“I mean this kid has the test scores the PSAT, test scores to go to Notre Dame,” mom-of-3 Heidi Bentzer from Edwardsburg said.

But then the pandemic hit.

"Last year was a struggle, Michigan didn't have virtual implemented as Indiana does. So I think we were off like four to six weeks without any sort of, I mean, the teachers would give them work, but they didn't have to do it," she said. “It was difficult to get them in the swing of things after that. When they actually had to do the work.”

Once school switched online in the fall, Heidi thought her problem motivating her kids to learn should’ve been fixed. But it didn’t.

"They had to do from 730 until 230, that's was the time that they needed, or I, you know, had them sitting down, we have an island so they sat at the island and that's where they did their homework, or played on youtube. If I wasn't looking," she said.

Chromebooks... just leading to another issue now on the hands of parents.

"We found out that there were other browsers that they can actually put on there. And kids at the high school create these browsers," she said.

Tana: "So, these other browsers, is that just where they can go and watch Netflix or YouTube or things like that?

"Without being on, I'm going to assume the school server or however that works, it's a backdoor," she said.

Online learning was creating another distraction for kids and adding to a lack of motivation to learn.

"He'd get A's and B's and there'd be like a D or an F because he just wasn't doing work," Bentzer said. "So you're saying, 'hey, you know, why didn't you turn in this,' and it's excuses or 'I turned it in', and she hasn't graded that yet. After probably three to four weeks, I was in tears because you know, they just weren't doing it and we, you know, had taken away their tv privileges and taken away their phones and taken away, you know, iPads, anything to get them to be motivated. What else can I take away.”

Heidi isn’t the only parent dealing with the same issue.

"It's just the influx of not knowing if it's going to be a full day, if it's going to be five days a week, not getting used to their friends and peers. I think that's a big issue, especially when trying to progress with phonics and catching on to how other kids are pronouncing and using words. I think that's something that's a struggle," Charles Presley, a dad with kids at New Prairie schools said.

“I get these things, saying that. My daughter hasn't even signed into class. I mean, how hard is that," Seth Frank, a South Bend Schools dad said. “Honestly at this point being that she's a senior, and she's going off. I mean, I'm tired of fighting."

"We have power school at our school, so it's an app where you can look at their grades. Look at the assignments. I was losing my mind," Bentzer said. “I stopped about three weeks after the actual virtual learning started, I had to stop looking at power school because it was my anxiety was through the roof. There was nothing that I was doing or not doing, you know.”

The disinterest in learning even impacting school attendance rates.

According to the Indiana Department of Education, the Goshen School District has had between a 93 and a 96 percent attendance rate the past 15 years. Now, for 2020-2021 that number is just over 85%.

An alarming trend to see, for Goshen Assistant Superintendent Alan Metcalfe.

"When you think about just the number of days it takes for every kid to that has to miss to lower that percentage is, it's quite a few days," Metcalfe said.

He said it could be because of the irregularity of schedules with hundreds of students virtual and several others quarantined throughout the year.

"When they go from either being like a hybrid schedule or all eLearning. That's been the biggest thing is getting back. And that first day or two back, they're just they've looked at just defeated," Presley said.

"As a parent, having kids who went to school from the time they were pre-kindergarten all the way they went to school. So this is what they know. And when they're not at school, they're on vacation," Frank said.

“I think it's affected Lucas more because I feel like he's asked for more mental health days," Bentzer said. "We will ask you know or do that I don't feel very good and there's been a few times I have, you know, but I would make him still do his homework

What schools are doing now is setting up meetings with parents.

"So when a student doesn't show up, an adult does contact them," Metcalfe said.

Although there’s a certain amount of grace that schools have to have.

"We find out why they're absent. And so, if some if they forget to call we don't count that against them if we've if they're just don't feel good, we don't count that against them," he said.

The punishment for truancy starts with an awareness letter, upgrades to an attendance hearing, and in worst-case scenarios can lead to family court.

"It hasn't happened for a while," he said.

And a lot of times, it's even news to the parents.

"There have been parents that have when contacted have said well I know they were there. And then we've had to say well according to our records they aren't there and so there have been issues where maybe students have not quite told the whole truth to their parents," he said.

Kids who did fall behind are now in a process of credit recovery.

"A student gets around 10 credits, a year, that'll make sure they have enough to get at least the general diploma. So we are monitoring that and students who are not where they should be," he said.

Giving way to a path for students to continue to succeed despite this difficult year.

"Logan right now is in credit recovery for English, which honestly I think was a blessing in disguise," Bentzer said. “He's ahead and he's passing.”

There are a variety of pathways schools are using to get students back on track. A lot of districts including Goshen are revamping their summer school programing so students have a chance to catch up, not be held back, or even graduate on time.



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