Recapping COVID-19 in the classroom

In March of 2020 when COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency in the US, the sounds of school went from a hallway bell to a Zoom meeting ding.
Published: May. 9, 2023 at 10:43 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Many students in Wisconsin are counting down the days to summer break, after a year spent fully in the classroom. While schools may look like they are back to normal, the journey through the COVID-19 pandemic was anything but.

In March of 2020 when COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency in the US, the sounds of school went from a hallway bell to a Zoom meeting ding.

“Online learning really wasn’t something we’ve done,” seventh grade teacher Doug Maughan recalled. “It is a brand-new concept for literally everyone, schools, teachers, parents, students. And, so we just tackled it in that March-April time set the best we could.”

Maughan teaches science and social studies at Patrick Marsh Middle School. He has taught in the Sun Prairie School District for two decades, but teaching through a camera was something totally new.

“I felt like a first-year teacher. I just felt like scrambling to try to create lessons and try to make them somewhat engaging online and you’re used to seeing kids’ reactions,” Maughan said.

Students already had Chromebooks; those with unstable internet were given mobile hotspots. Online learning proved to be a challenge for students.

Maughan said a lot of them chose to zone out and play games or be on their cell phones instead of engaged in the lesson. Some students, like Willa Parish, who was in 4th grade at the time, quickly learned how lonely virtual learning could be.

“I didn’t get to see my friends. I missed all my friends,” she remembered. “I just missed like the whole like, ‘teacher in front you’d listen to.’ I just missed that. The whole social part of it.”

It wasn’t until almost a year later, in the spring of 2021, when students were able to come back to the classroom, this time in a hybrid mode. Half the week at home, the other half at school wearing masks and socially distancing.

“I feel like everybody was just more they thought more of themselves and not more of others. And, so, it was like really it was difficult to kind of interact with people at the beginning to like become friends,” Parish said.

The social struggles were evident once students met again face to face, and so were the struggles with academics. According to an October 2022 report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, across the country for 4th and 8th graders, math scores saw their largest decreases ever and reading scores dropped to 1992 levels.

“We’ve actually tried to dive into re-teaching those concepts or those ideas that they might have missed over zoom or over hybrid,” Maughan said.

The lack of learning is part of the reason Parish never wants to go back to virtual learning.

“I do not want to go back to the virtual stuff, I’ve spent plenty of time on that, it hurts your eyes, it like hurts your brain after like a long time. I really like the hands-on stuff and I like coming back to school and getting in new groups,” Parish said.

That doesn’t mean virtual learning doesn’t still have a role in the classroom.

“Teachers have a larger toolbox after COVID,” Maugh explained. “So, an example would be if I have to miss a day, and I’m gonna have a guest teacher or sub in my room, I can create a lesson on a video. And the kids get the information from me on their Chromebooks, even though I’m not there, and that’s something that didn’t happen before.”

For now, students are enjoying getting back to basics.

“I know this year the kids are loving it,” Maughn added. “I know it sounds dumb, but you know, they love the drawing on posters. They like going back to that old school; ‘I’m going to color things I get to draw things.’”

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