CBS 58 Investigates the lasting impact of Covid on education

NOW: CBS 58 Investigates the lasting impact of Covid on education

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CUDAHY, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Students are among the hardest hit by the pandemic. In the last year, schools and universities were forced to switch to online learning, and the return to normal will be a slow process.

After a year of distance learning, a lot of kids are behind, and many students and parents are dealing with trauma from the pandemic. So educators are trying to figure out how to safely get kids back in the classroom and caught up.

Leyla Sutton is a senior at Cudahy High school.

“I actually transferred to a new school and it’s been really hard making friends,” Leyla said.

Leyla chose to go back to school in person, after doing most of her junior year online.

“Because I’ve found that if I’m not in person, if I’m not able to ask my questions, then I’m unable to fully complete my assignments to my full understanding,” Leyla said.

Virtual learning proved to be a challenge for many students and families. Enrollment across the state dropped 3 percent in 2020, compared to just .4 percent the previous year.

And getting kids back up to speed will be difficult.

“We can do this, but it’s going to take a couple years to get through this,” said Mike Thompson, Wisconsin’s deputy state superintendent. “We need to focus on accelerating kids' learning, providing them more opportunities for learning and paying attention to their social and emotional needs.”

Thompson says that may mean expanding summer school options, starting next school year early, longer school days and more after school programming. But that won’t help seniors, like Leyla. In the fall she’s heading off to college at UW Milwaukee.

“Dealing with COVID has definitely made it harder because you’re not able to practice our interactions with other people, and going to college is all about growth and being able to go and put your opinions out there,” Leyla said.

UW System President Tommy Thompson says UW will invest $1.3 million in expanding summer bridge programs for incoming freshmen.

“I want them to come and visit this summer,” President Thompson said. “Spend a week, maybe 10 days, two weeks and learn about college life, and I want students here to help them, counsel them and educate if they need further education.”

President Thompson says classes in those bridge programs will be led by UW students who missed out on student teaching during the pandemic. 

Despite the struggles though, there are some silver linings of the pandemic.

“The set of skills that children have learned over the past year are -- shows resilience and shows adaptability,” said Amy Mizialko, president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association.

Parent teacher conference participation was also at an all-time high, according to Mizialko. She says that’s likely due to the option to attend virtually. She says in the future she would like to see parents have the option of in-person or virtual conferences.

And at the college level, President Thompson says students demonstrated a cultural responsibility, wearing masks and adhering to testing rules. He also says the UW System was vital in helping with research, testing and vaccine distribution.

“We’re making the University of Wisconsin the new problem-solver for Wisconsin,” President Thompson said.

President Thompson says UW schools will have 75 percent in-person classes beginning in the fall, which is almost back to pre-pandemic levels. Typically about 20 percent of classes were already held online.

But Leyla isn’t sure life will be totally back to normal by her first day.

“I was really looking forward to living in the dorms, but now with COVID I’m like maybe I shouldn’t, and I also live within driving distance so I’ll probably just commute,” Leyla said.

The UW system lost about $320 million during the pandemic and are hoping the next state budget will include millions in additional aid and give them borrowing authority.

K-12 schools are also waiting to see how the decline in enrollment impacts districts during the budget process.

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