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Virtual Learning Concerns

Virtual learning is presenting challenges for many of the youngest students and a recent national study shows it could be impacting their level of success.

Elementary school provides many of the most important foundations for students; crucial skills like reading, writing and math.

There’s continued concern the limitations of the virtual setting could be holding those students back.

“Parents expressed some very legitimate concerns about students, their mental health, about their safety [and] their inability to perform online,” said Dr. Danny Webb, superintendent of the Everett Area School District. “That’s impacting all of our kids in a different way.”

As many school districts continue learning in a hybrid or virtual classroom setting to help limit the spread of COVID-19, there are indications it’s impacting students’ success, most notably at the elementary level.

Pennsylvania’s Interim Acting Physician General Dr. Wendy Braund said it’s been a balancing act from the beginning.

“Balancing between the risk of exposure to our students and to our staff, versus the importance of in-person education and opportunities to socialize,” she said. “We know [it’s] very important for our young people, particularly our youngest.”

A recent study from non-profit education research firm NWEA examined test data from students in grades three through eight, comparing their results from fall 2019 and fall 2020.

Data showed those students performed similarly in reading year-to-year, but dropped 5 to 10 percentiles in math.

Webb said getting his youngest students back to in person learning is crucial.

“The vision that we have here at the Everett School District is to focus on the elementary next and specifically on that K-3 and K-5 population,” he said.

Another part of that vision, vaccinating teachers.

Last week, the district’s scheduled vaccinations were cancelled because Pennsylvania has yet to reach Phase 1B.

The issue was brought up at Thursday’s state senate hearing.

“Is there a plan to prioritize the vaccination of teachers and school staff so that schools can be opened fully ASAP?” asked Sen. Carolyn Comitta of Pennsylvania’s 19th district.

“We have not yet started having conversations about when we will move to 1B and whether we will prioritize populations within 1B,” Braund responded.

Braund said the state is still trying to work through a long list of Phase 1A vaccinations.

But there is a chance schools could open without vaccines.

“There is growing evidence that as long as those rigorous preventive measures are in place, that schools are unlikely to be the source of super-spreader events,” Braund said.

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