The Pandemic School Year: Education Disrupted by COVID-19
with Anna Maria Chavez of the National School Boards Association
As a result of COVID-19 pandemic constraints placed on teachers and students, education experts are expressing concerns about students’ physical and mental health.
Anna Maria Chavez, Executive Director and CEO of the National School Boards Association, joins host Tetiana Anderson to shed light on the pandemic’s effect on learning.
Apr 01, 2021
Anderson: In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators pivoted to models of reduced class time and virtual learning. Now, more than a year later, education experts are seeing what lost learning can do -- Damage to physical and mental health. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Across the board, school children have been affected one way or another during the pandemic. They're away from their teachers and friends and they're missing out on sports and other extracurricular activities, and they're struggling with the lack of a normal routine. Joining me to talk about all of this and the education disruption caused by COVID is Anna Maria Chavez. She is the executive director and the CEO of the National School Boards Association. And Anna Maria, thank you so much for being here.
Chavez: It's a pleasure to be with you. And thank you for the opportunity to talk about these important issues.
Anderson: And there's so much to talk about, we know that one major organization that tracks this says that tens of thousands of kids are not able to report abuse as a result of not being in school. We've seen mental health issues on the rise. These children watched the death of George Floyd and others happened basically right in front of them. And we know that there's been an uptick in death by suicide, all of this as a result of the pandemic. How concerning is all of this, especially given the fact that kids were tremendously burdened before all of this?
Chavez: Well, obviously, we're very concerned about the welfare of children across the country. At the National School Boards Association, we represent state associations across the country who serve 90,000 school board members. These are individuals who run at the local level to represent the interests of these children. And what we're hearing from our members are issues surrounding kids and isolation, kids not getting access to health care. And clearly, as a mother, I know how important routine is for children these days. And we are really excited about the opportunity to get kids back safely into school because we know that mental health issues are on the uptick, on the rise. And we want to ensure that teachers and principals and administrators are there to support kids in their daily lives.
Anderson: So for a long time, we've heard about this thing called the homework gap. It's been going on for years, but the pandemic has made it worse. What is it and how are you guys addressing it?
Chavez: Essentially what the homework gap, that means is that there are certain percentages of kids that don't have access to reliable Internet to get their homework done to learn remotely. Right now, we know even before the pandemic, 30 percent of kids in K-12 didn't have connectivity to the Internet. And so we are ensuring going forward that policymakers, local school board members, everybody who has an investment in children understand we need to connect kids to the Internet so they can learn moving forward.
Anderson: So, Anna Maria, we know that marginalized communities are often hit the hardest in these types of situations. What is it that you're hearing?
Chavez: Well, we're hearing several things. First of all, as you know, COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted children in poverty, individuals who are working as essential workers. And so we just want to ensure that, again, as policymakers, school board members and as parents, that we realize there are kids who are already left behind, kids who relied on the actual schools for food during the day, extra resources and therapies during the school day. They're not getting those resources. So we have to ensure that we're keeping an eye out for these children as they remain on this remote island of learning and that we work very hard as communities across the country to ensure we get kids back safely into the school.
Anderson: There's this discussion around COVID-19 when it comes to the future. People are talking about what implications that will have for the economy, for our mental health and for the loss of learning for students. What are we looking at a year from now, five years from now, 10 years from now? If this is left unchecked.
Chavez: Well, what we're finding is that some kids have lost eight months of learning in the past year. So how do we ensure not only as we go back in school, whether it's hybrid or in person, that we're assessing their current level of education, what they've lost? And then, most importantly, what about children with disabilities, individuals who are unfortunate because a pandemic didn't have resources to professionals to help them with therapy, to help them with, again, learning loss. So we want to ensure that the federal government realizes that we're going to have to invest in these services and that these children are going to need those resources when they get back into the school room.
Anderson: And if people want to know more about your work, what's your website? Where can they go?
Chavez: Sure. Please come and join us at NSBA.org. We have many resources for parents, for caregivers, but also individuals who are interested in learning more about public education in the United States.
Anderson: Anna Maria Chavez is the executive director of the National School Boards Association. Thank you for being here.
Chavez: Thank you.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well for watching for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country. Be sure to log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.