What has changed and what is new

The hope is that this summer will be a bridge between a year and a half of pandemic education to a fall for all and a “normal” school year 2021-22.

The abrupt shift to distance learning in March 2020, followed by a fall and winter of ‘hybrid’ teaching and debates on synchronous learning versus asynchronous learning, put a strain on students, parents and educators.

School districts in the Lower Hudson Valley have attempted to adhere to sometimes ambiguous state health and safety guidelines and county-by-county councils, while feeling pressure from some parents to reopen schools.

The disparities between affluent suburban neighborhoods and more needy and diverse neighborhoods have also become clearer than ever, with urban neighborhoods needing months to provide laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots to all students.

The News / lohud Journal covered the issues and challenges families and schools face every step of the way. Here are some recent articles on education in the region, which will be updated over the summer:

Many students continue to learn at home: Most school districts have started bringing students back to school four or five days a week in March or April. Yet, as late as early May, tens of thousands of students across the region were still choosing to stay home for distance learning. Why?

Students reflect on pandemic in trials: After a year like no other, Lifting Up Westchester, a responsive nonprofit, asked students to write essays on what they learned during the pandemic. The winning essays were honest and hopeful, dealing with isolation, the importance of relationships, economic uncertainty in the face of the less fortunate, and racism.

Freshman Janira Martinez, 15, at Peekskill High School on April 28, 2021. Martinez won first place in the 9th / 10th grade category of the "What I learned from the pandemic" essay contest sponsored by Lifting Up Westchester, a nonprofit organization that provides food, shelter and support to thousands of people each year.

Time spent in school was essential for students with disabilities: Starting in the fall, school districts have made it a priority to have as many students with significant disabilities in school as possible. Many of these students prospered. But many students with less severe disabilities have struggled with blended education.

What was distance student attendance like? We may never really know. When most districts started blended education in the fall, their data systems were not able to record separate attendance records for students in school and those learning remotely at home.

Students in various districts were more likely not to have Internet access: Throughout the fall, many more students in districts with large black and Hispanic enrollments lacked the technology and internet service needed for distance learning, study finds.

Students and their tutors line up on the first day of instruction at Edward Williams School in Mount Vernon on November 16, 2020.

Federal aid, state aid increases current windfall for schools: Many districts in the Hudson Valley will see large federal grants from stimulus bills and / or large increases in state aid. In April, we compiled grant and aid projections for each district. Some figures are modified by modest amounts.

Districts are now planning how to spend federal grants: The state has given school districts until July 1 to release their plans for spending federal grants from the American Rescue Plan. Districts make an early effort to seek community input, as needed, and develop their plans.

What ‘Back to School II’ looked like: In the spring, when many districts reopened schools for in-person teaching, we visited one district to describe how things went.

Lila Fadden, a sixth grader at Rye Middle School, works behind a plexiglass partition on March 25.

What will happen to Regents exams after COVID? For two years in a row, due to the pandemic, New York City students did not have to take the Regents exams to earn the course credits required for graduation. Some believe that exams should no longer be required, period. The state plans to review New York’s graduation requirements soon.

Why equity in education never happened: The Journal News / lohud produced a series on systemic inequalities in northern suburbs. This segment explains the story of racism, segregation, and funding inequalities that have produced a region of neighboring school districts with vastly different resources and opportunities for students.

About Leslie Schwartz

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