The Pandemic Forced Schools to Change; What Happens Now?

By Brian Soika

June 9, 2021

In an elementary school classroom with different kinds of instruction, a teacher helps a student on a laptop while other students collaborate and work independently

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages, licensed under Creative Commons.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, schools scrambled to adapt. Districts were forced to employ new technologies and rethink how they serve students and families. And while the Coronavirus has worsened some long-standing inequities in education, it has also highlighted opportunities for improvement in schools.

“This has been a transformational time for educators as we have had to reinvent and reimagine our long-ingrained approaches,” said Superintendent Roxane Fuentes, BA ’94 EdD ’15 in an interview with USC Rossier Magazine

After a year in which schools had to revise how they function, and as many plan to fully reopen in the fall, which, if any, changes will stick?  

Remote Learning

Prospects for growth: High 

In response to feedback from families, some districts are embracing remote learning going forward. Colorado’s largest district is offering a full-time remote learning option next year, and many school systems across the country have already adopted or are considering adopting some form of virtual school, according to a survey by Rand.

However, in order for virtual learning to be equitable for all students, schools need to reckon with a common problem: Access. 

“The pandemic illuminated glaring gaps in our broadband infrastructure for low-income communities,” says Stephen Aguilar, Assistant Professor of Education at USC Rossier who co-produced a report on the impacts of distance learning. “This newfound attention will hopefully lead to investment in communities that have been underserved so that all children have access to the tools they need to succeed.”

Outdoor Schools

Prospects for growth: Medium.

Schools that implemented outdoor classrooms during the pandemic hoped to provide a safe way to continue to offer in-person instruction. Being outside can also reduce stress and create more optimal learning environments, according to advocates such as Anthony Knight, EdD ‘06, whose Ventura, California school district provides a model for outdoor education and environmental literacy. 

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest district, recently announced that it will expand outdoor learning opportunities in the wake of COVID-19. 

It would seem that outdoor education could potentially expand across the country, but year-round programs might not be feasible in colder climates. Some programs also continue to grapple with equity issues

Mental Health Support for Students

Prospects for growth: Medium.

Many school districts have increased their mental health services during the pandemic. Now, with an influx of funding via The American Rescue Plan, some have announced bigger investments in mental health support for students. 

However, it remains to be seen whether this investment will become permanent. There may currently be resources to hire additional counselors and partner with community organizations, but sustaining salaries and contracts once temporary funding runs out might be difficult.

School-Parent Communication

Prospects for growth: Low.

Schools have dramatically increased communication with parents to update them on reopening plans, follow up on assignments, address absences and more. 

In addition to relaying basic information, increased communication has other important positive effects. When parents and teachers work together, they’re able to do a better job for children, said USC Rossier Dean Pedro Noguera during an online conversation on building resilient educators and children.

However, in the absence of official school policy, maintaining high levels of outreach once the pandemic subsides seems unlikely given teacher workloads and parent responsibilities.