With students returning to classes, we are tempted to turn to our usual musings about what they will learn this year, what discoveries might pique new curiosity, and what dramatic play or sports teams they will try out for. However, there is so much more to contemplate as we consider the needs in a post-COVID world, filled with many students who have not all bounced back the way we imagined, along with the educators who work to support their learning. The world has changed, and in education, it has changed dramatically.
"We need a unified effort of teachers, students, and our broader community to focus attention and support on our schools and all learning opportunities."
Consider these telling statistics:
- Education Week reported that in 2022, more than 55% of teachers planned to leave the profession early, because of the stresses endured during and after the pandemic.
- According to National Student Clearinghouse data, more than 1 million fewer students are enrolled in college nationwide than before the pandemic. High school students have reevaluated their choices given post-pandemic job and training options available to them, especially considering family responsibilities and economic realities.
- And, our youngest learners in Summit County felt the pandemic’s effects in the most critical way: Kindergarten readiness dropped to a startling low of just 48%. According to Summit Education Initiative, this measure of readiness can predict a child’s trajectory for proficiency on Third Grade Reading assessments if they do not have the proper supports in place to learn early literacy and numeracy skills, from caring and attentive adults around them.
So, how do we reconcile the needs of a challenged teaching profession with the needs of students who deserve our undivided attention? The road ahead is not a straight line but requires a few things that we as a community can provide.
There needs to be an unwavering commitment to the long haul. We didn’t come to these challenges overnight, and we won’t solve them with short-term solutions either. Instead, working collaboratively to wrap services around children and families requires a holistic approach. We need a unified effort of teachers, students, and our broader community to focus attention and support on our schools and all learning opportunities. The Foundation’s work with the emerging Out-of-School-Time Network is an example of critical work in Akron that brings together more than 100 after-school groups, educators and city recreation leaders to assure families have access to meaningful extended learning opportunities for their kids after the school day has ended. Our Educator Initiative Grant program continues to foster student-centered projects that uplift social-emotional learning and teacher innovations.
GAR Foundation is reconsidering our education strategies on how we best support the most impactful approaches to learning opportunities for our community’s most in-need students, while assuring that educators feel valued and supported in a changed landscape.
There will be more to learn in the coming weeks about the OST Network, GAR Foundation’s work in education, and how we work alongside our Akron partners to support learning opportunities for all students. If you have thoughts to share, I’d love to hear them! Write to me at [email protected] with ideas about the best ways to support teachers and students in Akron. Better yet, jot a note to a teacher or principal you may know, and thank them for their work with our students as the year begins on this winding road before us.
Kirstin S. Toth
Senior Vice President