From left to right, Melanie Blount, Terrance Blount Jr., Terrance Blount Sr. and Tania Bolton, commemorated the first day of school in front of African-Centered College Preparatory Academy on Aug. 23 in Kansas City.
From left to right, Melanie Blount, Terrance Blount Jr., Terrance Blount Sr. and Tania Bolton commemorated the first day of school in front of African-Centered College Preparatory Academy on Aug. 23 in Kansas City. (Chase Castor/The Beacon)

The year that students spent in remote learning after COVID-19 hit has been disruptive to their education. Some struggled with online learning, and others had trouble even accessing school

But despite warnings about pandemic “learning loss,” several area educators who served on the Missouri Task Force for Learning Acceleration said treating students as deficient won’t help.

In fact, the first thing to do may be to stop using the word “loss.”

“It’s not that they had lost anything, it’s just that really everything kind of had to slow down for a bit while we were dealing with education in a pandemic,” said Amanda Bearden, a North Kansas City Schools second grade teacher at Meadowbrook Elementary

Schools are working to assess students and meet them where they are, focusing on core standards that serve as a foundation for more advanced skills. 

Here are several things parents and guardians can do to help promote learning. 

Communicate with teachers

“Your teacher is going to have a really good sense from the start-of-the-year assessments to be able to tell you, ‘Here are the bright spots, here are the struggle areas’” for your child, said Tysie McDowell, co-founder and superintendent of Crossroads Charter Schools in Kansas City. 

McDowell was previously the chief academic officer for Crossroads and served on the assessment work group for Missouri’s Task Force for Learning Acceleration. 

If your child did miss some learning goals from the previous grade, teachers can explain what will be covered in school and what parents can help with at home, McDowell said. Some teachers suggest playing educational games together rather than overwhelming kids with additional schoolwork. 

Teachers and schools can also describe how they plan to support students and explain available resources, such as tutoring and after-school programs, said Bearden, who also served on the task force. 

Prioritize key learning standards 

Not all learning goals are equal. Some milestones from the previous grade are essential for future progress, while others aren’t.

For example, if your child knows fractions are part of a whole, it will be easier for them to learn how to put fractions on a number line, McDowell said. If your child didn’t learn that fractions are part of a whole, they need to understand that concept before they can learn anything else about fractions. 

“Us parents can kind of freak out sometimes, like, ‘You need to do these worksheets all night long until you get caught up,’” she said. “And that’s not going to work.”

Instead, parents looking to supplement their child’s education should give “small doses of just the critical things.”

Teachers may ask parents to help reinforce key standards, or they might assign homework covering skills, like cursive handwriting, that are easier to practice independently, McDowell said. 

Stay positive and keep learning fun

“When kids hear learning loss, I’m sure that they think, ‘I probably don’t have everything that I need,’” Bearden said. 

While it is easy for her to counteract those messages for her second graders with praise and encouragement, she worries older students might feel unprepared for careers or post-high school education. 

Brooke Thompson shared squirts of hand sanitizer with her class at African-Centered College Preparatory Academy, 6410 Swope Parkway in Kansas City, Mo. on the first day of school, Aug. 23. (Chase Castor/The Beacon)

The term “learning loss” is negative, Bearden said. Framing the issue as determining where students are, then moving forward from there, is more hopeful and doesn’t make students feel deficient. 

Both Bearden and McDowell have been encouraged by seeing kids’ enthusiasm as they return to school, reunite with their friends and start to learn as a class. 

McDowell said students are not as far behind as she initially expected and are now soaking up knowledge like sponges. 

Here are some ways parents can help keep up kids’ enthusiasm:

  • Put social-emotional health first. Kids need to feel calm, safe and secure to learn, McDowell said. Address any problems with anxiety or depression before focusing on academics. 
  • Increase confidence by emphasizing that learning requires bravery, empathy and persistence rather than getting everything right the first time, Bearden said. 
  • And parents, try not to lose sleep over your child’s education level right now, McDowell said. 

“Just be knowledgeable about what your child needs to learn. And have fun with it, because you don’t want kids to hate school.”

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Maria Benevento is the education reporter at The Kansas City Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member. Follow her on Twitter @MariaFBenevento.