Reengaging Students Who Lost Their Way During the Pandemic

Posted June 8, 2021
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Girl watches lesson on laptop while doing homework

Dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, young peo­ple across the nation dis­en­gaged from mid­dle and high school. Thank­ful­ly, com­mu­ni­ties have a new resource hub — cour­tesy of the Nation­al League of Cities (NLC) — devot­ed to help­ing these youth get their aca­d­e­m­ic careers back on track.

The online hub, devel­oped with the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s sup­port, boasts a num­ber of fea­tures, including:

  • research and data about the scope of stu­dent disengagement; 
  • audio clips of young peo­ple describ­ing the chal­lenges they’re facing;
  • poli­cies and prac­tices aimed at bol­ster­ing stu­dent engage­ment; and 
  • a four-step action plan that local lead­ers can use to iden­ti­fy and reen­gage stu­dents who are chron­i­cal­ly absent or strug­gling academically.

Explore the Hub

In ear­ly 2020, the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic prompt­ed schools across Amer­i­ca to abrupt­ly shut­ter their phys­i­cal class­rooms and switch to remote learn­ing. The shift exposed and exac­er­bat­ed inequities — such as food inse­cu­ri­ty, home­less­ness, bar­ri­ers to tech­nol­o­gy, and more — that many young peo­ple were already facing.

As lessons con­tin­ued online, school dis­tricts report­ed unprece­dent­ed rates of absen­teeism and dis­en­gage­ment. One exam­ple: In Michi­gan, more than 53,000 stu­dents were unac­count­ed for, accord­ing to an analy­sis of the state’s fall 2020 enroll­ment data.

Enter NLC, which gath­ered civic and school lead­ers along­side aca­d­e­m­ic experts and young peo­ple. The group iden­ti­fied pan­dem­ic-spe­cif­ic chal­lenges now fac­ing schools and students.

This list included: 

  • a lack of aware­ness, both local­ly and nation­al­ly, about the num­ber of stu­dents who are dis­con­nect­ed from or dis­en­gaged with school;
  • deci­sion-mak­ing process­es that do not ful­ly engage young peo­ple in shap­ing the strate­gies and poli­cies that affect them; and
  • the need for sweep­ing ser­vices and sup­port — both inside and out­side of the class­room — to effec­tive­ly recon­nect stu­dents to schools.

The group’s insights helped to cre­ate a resource guide, Address­ing Stu­dent Reen­gage­ment in the Time of COVID-19, and informed rec­om­men­da­tions for cities and states to consider.

The NLC hub high­lights four such rec­om­men­da­tions. These are: 

  1. con­vene local stake­hold­ers and empha­size the issue of stu­dent dis­en­gage­ment to shore up sup­port for effec­tive reen­gage­ment strategies;
  2. lever­age com­mu­ni­ty learn­ing hubs and oth­er resources to expand the num­ber of avail­able edu­ca­tion­al venues; 
  3. rede­ploy and realign staff to enhance out­reach to dis­en­gaged stu­dents and con­nect them to sup­port and ser­vices; and
  4. Launch a Back to School” cam­paign or sim­i­lar effort to pre­pare for the like­ly surge of stu­dent reen­gage­ment chal­lenges that will emerge as schools reopen.

Schools have been grap­pling with how to keep stu­dents con­nect­ed and engaged even before the pan­dem­ic hit,” says Alli­son Ger­ber, who over­sees the Casey Foundation’s employ­ment, edu­ca­tion and train­ing strate­gies. Though the scope of the prob­lem has widened, so too has the recog­ni­tion that we must embrace new approach­es — shaped in col­lab­o­ra­tion with young peo­ple — that help to meet their needs in and out of the classroom.”

Many of the Foundation’s part­ners, includ­ing those in the Learn and Earn to Achieve Poten­tial (LEAP)™ net­work, have been devel­op­ing solu­tions to help young peo­ple stay on track with their edu­ca­tion­al and employ­ment goals amid the pandemic.

We are cer­tain­ly see­ing com­mu­ni­ties respond in inno­v­a­tive ways,” Ger­ber says. Our part­ners have con­vened vir­tu­al town halls to hear from stu­dents; launched online resource hubs for low-cost inter­net and free tutor­ing; pro­vid­ed telether­a­py options to sup­port men­tal and emo­tion­al well-being; and more.”

Learn More About LEAP’s Efforts to Sup­port Youth Amid the Pandemic

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