Pandemic hits low income and minority students harder

Pandemic hits low income and minority students harder

PITTSBURGH — It’s less than one week into virtual learning, but Tawana Davis is already seeing issues with her daughter Ahrieyelah.

“She gets frustrated really easy. So, if it’s going too slow for her, she wants to know why she can’t watch TV,” Davis said. “But when she’s engaged, she’s engaged.”

Ahrieyelah is a first grader at Grandview Elementary School in Pittsburgh’s Allentown neighborhood. But, like nearly 24,000 Pittsburgh Public Schools students, her school year is starting virtually.

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Gov. Tom Wolf shut down schools statewide on March 16 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Six months later, students like Ahrieyelah are still learning from home.

This is forcing families to create their own classrooms and, in some cases, find childcare. But these changes are also expected to have a long-term impact on how students learn.

Studies show being away from the classroom can lead to learning loss, even when virtual instruction is involved.

An analysis from the consulting group McKinsey & Company examined several different scenarios including all-virtual learning for the fall semester.

The study found students “could lose three to four months of learning if they receive average remote instruction, seven to 11 months with lower-quality remote instruction, and 12 to 14 months if they do not receive any instruction at all.”


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“Children in general across the board, K-12, are probably going to be behind where past generations have been. I think we need to rethink our expectations for those grade levels,” said Dr. Rae Ann Hirsh, who serves as Carlow University’s Program Director for Early Childhood Education.

Hirsh said not having in-person instruction will likely have a major impact on student development, particularly for younger kids.

That could be seen in areas like symbolic thinking, reading, and writing.

It’s an issue Hirsh said goes beyond not having students attending class in-person.

“Those connections aren’t there and those appropriate interactions aren’t there,” she said.

But the impact on students doesn’t affect everyone equally. Studies show learning loss has a greater impact on lower-income and minority communities.

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“I think it’s going to be something where we will not see just how low on the totem pole they are until the next standardized testing,” said Jasmine Paolino, whose daughter is a sixth grader at Propel Montour Elementary School.

The divide is most distinct with technology and internet access.

Hirsh said this disparity will only widen without significant changes.

Tawana Davis said she has already seen signs of learning loss in her daughter.

“Just from watching her today, her penmanship and the way she writes her numbers is totally different from last year,” she said.

She plans on doing whatever it takes to make sure Ahrieyelah doesn’t fall behind.

“After school is over with them, it still goes on with me. We have after -school program once we’re done with the teacher.”