Educators in Michigan prepare to combat learning loss as students return to the classroom

‘We need to personalize learning for our kids,’ Carrie Wozniak says

How students and educators are preparing to tackle learning loss

DETROIT – School districts across Michigan are preparing for students to return to the classroom after the pandemic forced many to attend school virtually.

Zamir, 7, spent first grade at home in front of a computer. Zamir said they felt like they didn’t learn anything.

The younger the child is, the more likely they struggled to make the leap from in-person learning to virtual learning. Miranda, 8, said she struggled to get through second grade at home.

Read: Back to school: Teachers share expectations for COVID school year ahead

“It was like a whole different experience,” Miranda said.

Mikayla is a 15-year-old junior in Clintondale Community Schools. She said she watched her younger sister, Miranda, struggle.

“It was definitely difficult to get on and sit at a table for seven hours in front of a computer,” Mikayla said.

Teachers have many concerns about returning to school this fall.

“I’m worried about them going back home and losing focus. I’m worried about if I have enough in me to make sure that they’re successful,” Pontiac schools teacher Michael Motzny said.

Learning loss is one of the biggest issues educators are expected to face this fall. Detroit Public Schools Community District reports chronic student absenteeism at 70%. Weeks before school starts, staffers are already on the streets trying to find students and bring them back to school.

Read: Where to get a COVID-19 vaccine in Michigan in August: List of clinics

“We’ve done 20,000 home visits reminding students that we’ll be open in the fall. Talking about virtual school is an option and if that’s a right option, but we’re excited to get to this new normal because we know our students need a lot of work,” Detroit schools superintendent Nikolai Vitti said.

Student learning loss is blamed on the coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions that were put in place to protect students, staff and families. Summer schools saw an increase in attendance as students worked to catch up in time to be grade-level ready by the start of the school year.

“The goal of accelerated learning is to keep our kids moving and keep them on track but also fill in some of those learning gaps from the loss during the pandemic,” Fraser Public Schools superintendent Carrie Wozniak said. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen a time more than now where we need to personalize learning for our kids. When we talk about literacy and reading, we know students are going to be on a wide continuum when they come back to us.’

Even with the changing COVID pandemic, most school districts believe they are more prepared to better teach students remotely. If they have to. Last year, many had less than three days of warning that they’d have to shift from in-person learning to virtual -- this year, they’ve had 18 months to figure everything out.

About the Author:

Paula Tutman is an Emmy award-winning journalist who came to Local 4 in 1992. She's a Peace Corps alum who spent her early childhood living in Sierra Leone, West Africa and Tanzania and East Africa.