Let’s do more for at-risk students before they fall behind

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a great deal of new obstacles for many of us. Unfortunately, schools and students have not been spared. Over the past several weeks as school has resumed for many, we are seeing just how difficult it is for students, teachers, families, and administrators to navigate the new realities of trying to uphold our education system successfully during a pandemic.

Traditionally, the start of a new school year is filled with excitement as students and staff gear up for a fresh start and look forward to a year of brand-new adventures in the classroom. But this year, education looks very different. Whether students are learning virtually, in the classroom socially distanced and wearing masks, or opting for an entirely different school or way of learning, new challenges are being presented as we continue to fight the virus and stay healthy.

Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, many students will face added frustrations and disadvantages with the new normal of remote learning. Some may not have the support they need at home and they cannot go into the classroom to work with teachers in person. At the same time, at-risk and minority students will be negatively impacted by today’s circumstances. A Pew Research Center analysis of data from early April found that “59% of parents with lower incomes who had children in schools that were remote at the time said their children would likely face at least one of three digital obstacles asked about.” That means that roughly six out of ten parents with lower incomes believe their children will face at least one hardship while learning at home.

And while administrators, teachers, students and families are working overtime to adjust to a new type of learning, that leaves less time and resources for targeting at-risk students who even in the best of times are in danger of falling behind. This is precisely why there has never been a more critical time for our elected leaders in Olympia to support school districts and educators.

That means utilizing all available resources to ensure all students adjust to the new difficulties presented by this new reality and continue receiving a quality education. Partnering with programs designed to ensure no students fall behind is a great way to solve this problem and add additional resources to our school district. For example, Graduation Alliance partners with educators, government agencies, and local leaders to provide students with the resources they need to be successful. They have programs specifically targeting students that might not make it to graduation and provide those individuals and their families tools to succeed in any environment – including a global pandemic.

The Dropout Recovery Program re-enrolls and re-engages students who have previously dropped out of school, providing them with 24/7, on-demand tutoring. Students can utilize this program and work towards completing their high school diplomas, General Educational Development (GED), or to gain industry-specific credentials. Likewise, Graduation Alliance has recognized that COVID-19 has created new challenges for students who were previously engaged in school pre-pandemic, causing them not to participate or worse, not attend classes virtually, creating an entirely new at-risk population of students. In response, they are implementing additional resources specifically targeting attendance recovery for students.

Supporting students and educators must be a top priority as we continue to address COVID-19’s impact. We need to encourage our leaders like Governor Jay Inslee and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal to use every available resource to help our students succeed during these unprecedented times. If we want to be sure our at-risk students don’t fall behind, more must be done. The decisions we make now will impact students and individuals long after we have a vaccine.

Nansen Malin is passionate about politics, technology, beach life, salmon, free enterprise, and creating change. Former Alinsky student who does conservative politics. 

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