30 of the most powerful school photos taken in 2020

Monica Humphries
A Palestinian kindergarten child wearing a face shield as a...
A kindergartner wears a face shield as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19 in Palestine. Mahmoud Issa/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
  • The pandemic drastically changed the way students learned in 2020. 

  • Some schools shifted to online classes, while others moved lessons outdoors. 

  • Teachers added plastic partitions to their classrooms, children wore face masks, and temperature checks became part of the regular routine for in-person learning. 

  • Insider collected some of the most powerful education photos from 2020 to highlight how the school system adapted.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Learning in 2020 looked drastically different for both educators and students.

school education 2020
Students sit in a classroom on the first day of the new school year at the Al-Amari refugee camp in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestine. Nidal Eshtayeh/Xinhua/Getty Images

For many teachers and students, 2020 started out with a sense of normalcy.

But that quickly changed as the novel coronavirus began spreading around the world in the first few months of the year.

In March, lockdowns forced schools to close, and families transformed their living rooms, bedrooms, and kitchens into makeshift classrooms.

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Alice, 5, grabs her books that fell down after her daily study session at home during a lockdown in Santo Andre, Brazil. Amanda Perobelli/TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY/Reuters

Schools closed as countries around the world began imposing lockdowns in March.

Classes shifted online, and parents quickly took on a new role as an educator, like Alice's family in Santo Andre, Brazil.

Amanda Perobelli captured this photo of a 5-year-old studying from home after the country closed schools and imposed a lockdown back in March. 

Government officials and educators spent the summer discussing how to safely reopen schools.

School teacher Brittany Goddard protests at the Utah State Capitol, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Teacher Brittany Goddard protests at the Utah State Capitol in August in Salt Lake City, Utah. Rick Bowmer/AP Photo

Over the summer, teachers, students, families, and educators took to the streets to protest against schools reopening for in-person learning. 

Photographers captured powerful images of protesters and their signs.

Rick Bowmer's photograph featured Brittany Goddard, a Utah-based teacher, protesting the district's reopening. She holds a sign that reads, "We can't teach from the grave."

Many schools reopened for in-person learning and students went back to the classroom.

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Darsi Green's second-grade class practices social distancing while eating lunch on the basketball court at Weaverville Elementary School in Weaverville, California. Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Students were welcomed back into the classroom this fall, but it wasn't without major changes, as Business Insider's Taylor Borden and Juliana Kaplan previously reported

For example, Darsi Green's second-grade class began eating lunch outside to curb the spread of the virus.

Kent Nishimura snapped this photo on a gloomy day at Weaverville Elementary School in Weaverville, California. 

For educators, it often meant teaching both online and in-person classes.

Teacher Chung Ha-eun gives an online class amid the new coronavirus outbreak at Seoul girls' high school in Seoul, South Korea.
Teacher Chung Ha-eun gives an online class amid the new coronavirus outbreak at Seoul girls' high school in Seoul, South Korea. Ahn Young-joon/AP Photo

School districts around the world wanted to provide families with options, and many students were given the choice to come into the classroom or learn from home.

For teachers, that often meant teaching a group of students online and in-person at the same time. 

In this photograph by Ahn Young-joon, a teacher in South Korea records an online lesson for her students. 

The pandemic also brought new fear and new stress to educators.

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A teacher wearing surgical gloves amid the new coronavirus pandemic corrects homework from students who do not have internet at home. Ariana Cubillos/AP Photo

Teachers, both in the classroom and teaching from their homes, were met with entirely new stressors this academic year. The first week of classes involved stress, exhaustion, and confusion.

Beyond fearing their safety, teachers had to learn new online platforms, find innovative ways to engage students, and work with families like never before.

Ariana Cubillos captured this image of a teacher grading homework while wearing gloves. While some students could learn online, most students lacked the technology and internet connectivity, and relied on trips to the school to continue their education, according to AP.

Teachers and students weren't the only ones who faced changes; custodians took on the huge responsibility of cleaning and disinfecting schools.

A secondary school in in Sverdlovsk Region, Russia, is disinfected.
A secondary school in Sverdlovsk Region, Russia, gets disinfected. Donat Sorokin/TASS/Getty Images

Beyond the temperature checks and plastic partitions, many schools employed new standards of cleaning — and that responsibility fell to custodial staff.

In this picture, taken by Donat Sorokin, a serviceman in the Russian Central Military District disinfects a classroom before students arrive. 

Some schools moved classrooms outdoors.

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Students wearing face masks take a board exam at the school playground amid the coronavirus pandemic in Kathmandu, Nepal. PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images

Scientists suggested that the risk of infection is lower outdoors.

With that in mind, many schools moved their lessons outside. This happened in record time as educators scrambled to build outdoor classrooms.

In Kathmandu, Nepal, schools discussed how to conduct board exams for students. The answer: dozens of desks in the playground.

Prakash Mathema captured this bird's-eye view of the scene in November.

However, things looked drastically different inside classrooms.

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Students wearing face shields and masks sit inside their classroom as some schools reopened in Khokana village, Nepal. PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images

This photograph of students in Nepal was captured by Prakash Mathema.

The image resonated with people around the world as face shields and face masks quickly became the norm inside the classroom. 

At this school in Bangkok, Thailand, students wore face masks and were separated by plastic cubes.

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Thai kindergarteners wear face masks as they play in screened-in areas used for social distancing at the Wat Khlong Toey School in Bangkok, Thailand. Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images

Schools around the world added new safety restrictions to their in-person classrooms, from plastic partitions to temperature checks.

This photo, taken by Lauren DeCicca, showed how different playtime looked for these kindergarteners in Bangkok, Thailand. 

Before, they could share toys and interact with each other. But this fall, the school required social distancing, and students played from the confines of a plastic cubicle.

New elements were added to the school routine, like regular coronavirus tests.

SWAB COVID-19 test for Students in Indonesia
Medical officers test students for COVID-19 amid concerns of the outbreak in Surabaya, Indonesia. Ridho/Sijori Images/Barcroft Media/Getty Images

Some schools required students to get tested regularly as part of their reopening plan.

Ridho captured this photo of a school in Surabaya, Indonesia, testing all students and teachers ahead of in-person learning. 

Other students were greeted with thermometers every morning.

entering school temperature check
A student has his temperature checked before the first day for in-person teaching at St. John's Lutheran School in Orange County, California. Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register/Getty Images

Paul Bersebach photographed the first day of classes at St. John's Lutheran School in Orange County, California.

Beyond wearing masks, students' temperatures were checked at the start of the day. 

Lunches also felt isolated as students were required to sit 6 feet apart during their afternoon break.

school lunch coronavirus
School children are spaced apart in one of the rooms used for lunch at Woodland Elementary School in Milford, Massachusetts. Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

Students typically look forward to lunch, which provides a chance to eat and chat with friends.

This year, the afternoon breaks looked different. For many schools, lunch moved outdoors.

Suzanne Kreiter photographed this lunch at Woodland Elementary School in Milford, Massachusetts, where students stayed inside and socially distanced. 

Even the bus ride home looked shockingly different.

school bus mask education coronavirus
A student naps while riding the bus to Trinity High in Junction City, California. Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Schools came up with ways to keep every element of the day socially distanced, including buses.

For some schools, it meant having designated seats on the bus, and others increased their vehicle fleet to decrease capacity on each individual bus.

Here, Kent Nishimura photographs a student sitting by herself. 

Major life accomplishments, like graduating from high school, were reimagined.

drive thru outdoor graduation education
High-school graduation is held at a drive-in theater due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Hinsdale, New Hampshire. Brian Snyder/TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY/Reuters

As the end of the school year approached, it became clear that large graduation ceremonies would be canceled.

Many schools hosted graduations at drive-ins, like this high school in Hinsdale, New Hampshire.

Brian Snyder photographed these graduating seniors, who wore their caps and gowns, and gathered in a socially distanced manner to mark the end of their high-school career. 

A school in New Hampshire took an unconventional approach to graduation and sent students and families on a ski lift.

ski lift graduation education
Seniors from Kenneth High School and family ride a ski lift to the summit of Cranmore Mountain in North Conway, New Hampshire for their graduation ceremony. JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP/Getty Images

Joseph Prezioso captured this image of seniors at Kenneth High School in North Conway, New Hampshire, who celebrated graduation from atop a ski lift. 

In Manila, Philippines, one school hosted a "cyber-graduation."

A teacher arranges pictures of students on a tablet that is attached to robots during an event they called "cyber-graduation" at a school at Taguig in Manila, Philippines
A teacher arranges pictures of students on a tablet that is attached to robots during an event they called "cyber-graduation" at a school at Taguig in Manila, Philippines. Aaron Favila/AP Photo

Aaron Favila photographed the "cyber-graduation" that took place in May at a school in Manila, Philippines. 

In order to avoid large gatherings, the school's 179 students graduated virtually. 

Students and families still found ways to celebrate canceled proms and senior nights.

prom coronavirus education
Patrice Toussaint's senior prom was canceled due to schools being closed during the coronavirus pandemic. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Schools in the US canceled prom. But some families were still adamant about finding a way to celebrate the milestone. 

Patrice Toussaint, a senior at Edward Murrow High School in Brooklyn, New York, still dressed up for the canceled event.

Stephanie Keith captured the moment her mother placed a crown on her head.

"I've been planning for four years. I was going to have a send-off party with a barbecue and a red carpet. I was going to have two dresses and wear a crown," the mother told Getty.

And most of the school year wasn't easy.

virtual online schooling education
Los Angeles Unified School District students Andrea Ramos, 10, and Alexander Ramos, 8, work on school-issued computers with unreliable internet connectivity. Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

For families, a lack of reliable internet became a barrier to education.

Lucy Nicholson snapped this photo of Anely Solis' family. Her two children worked from school-issued computers, but they faced Wi-Fi challenges from their home in Los Angeles, California.

Solis' family wasn't alone in the problem. In the US, 4.4 million households with children didn't have adequate Wi-Fi at the start of the school year.

For districts across the country, it was a race to get students computers and access to Wi-Fi.

Teachers found ways to continue classes, despite a lack of technology.

Children Attend Open Air School At Construction Site In Delhi Amid Covid-19
Children study while seated on mats on the ground at an improvised classroom set up at a construction site in New Delhi, India. Anindito Mukherjee/Getty Images

In New Dehli, India, a group of students without laptops needed for online classes learn from mats on the ground.

Anindito Mukherjee photographed the students learning from a construction site in the country's capital in December. 

Other teachers had to face silent classrooms, and their only interaction with students was virtual.

empty classroom virtual learning
Yasen Georgiev teaches online from an empty classroom in Varna, Bulgaria. Hristo Rusev/Getty Images

Classrooms were eerily quiet in many schools around the world this semester. Many schools shifted to a virtual platform, where students would learn from their computers. 

For example, Yasen Georgiev's classroom in Varna, Bulgaria, was empty this fall.

Hristo Rusev snapped a photograph of the teacher as he taught online students at the Regional Health Inspectorate.

Meanwhile, students spent more hours in front of screens.

Students Take Online Classes Amid Coronavirus Pandemic
A student learns from her home in Mexico City, Mexico. Ricardo Castelan Cruz/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media/Getty Images

Students spent even more time in front of screens as classes moved online. 

Ricardo Castelan Cruz photographed a teenager staring at a laptop and television during her online school day in Mexico City. 

Teachers searched for ways to explain the novel coronavirus to students.

A school teacher in Osterode, Germany, teaches students aboout the coronavirus.
A school teacher in Osterode, Germany, teaches students about the coronavirus. Frank May/picture alliance/Getty Images

Frank May photographed a school teacher in Osterode, Germany, as she answered questions about the novel coronavirus. 

Educators also tried to keep students warm and safe as winter months approached.

winter school education
Students wear jackets as they work in their classroom with the window open at the Petri primary school in Dortmund, Germany. INA FASSBENDER/AFP/Getty Images

Ventilation is a key approach to curb the spread of the virus in classrooms, but as temperatures dropped, it became harder and harder for classrooms to keep windows open.

For example, in this class in Dortmund, Germany, students don't take off their coats when they arrive at school.

They wear heavy coats, hats, and gloves as they learn throughout the day, as shown in this photograph by Ina Fassbender.

Other teachers didn't face weather challenges but instead had to find new approaches to learning.

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Vanessa Andrieu, teacher of French sign language gives a lesson to deaf pupils in her classroom at Sajus school in France. FRED SCHEIBER/AFP/Getty Images

Throughout this entire pandemic, experts have worried about the impact masks will have on the development of students.

This is especially true for Vanessa Andrieu, a teacher of French sign language. Fred Scheiber photographed her wearing an inclusive mask in her classroom as she taught students at Sajus school in Toulouse, France. 

Another challenge schools faced was making sure virtual students had access to meals.

School District Distributes Meals To Students During COVID-19 Pandemic
A rack with bags containing grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches at the Muhlenberg Elementary Center in Muhlenberg, Pennsylvania. Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle/Getty Images

More than 30 million students across the US relied on schools for breakfast and lunch, but as classes shifted online, schools needed new ways to get students food.

One approach at Muhlenberg Elementary Center in Reading, Pennsylvania, was to provide grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches. 

Ben Hasty captured this image of school employees distributing the racks of brown-bag meals to families. 

Even something as simple as hugs came to an end this school year.

Teachers try to prevent the hug between Wendy Otin, 6, and Oumou Salam Niang, 6, as they meet during the first day of school after the lockdown.
Teachers try to prevent the hug between Wendy Otin, 6, and Oumou Salam Niang, 6, as they meet during the first day of school after the lockdown. Emilio Morenatti/AP Photo

Emilio Morenatti snapped this photograph as teachers raced to stop two students from hugging at their school in Barcelona, Spain.

Teachers and staff quickly learned that social distancing was going to be a hard, yet necessary, thing to enforce as schools reopened. 

But it wasn't all bleak, as some schools still found innovative ways to connect and celebrate students.

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Madey Hill, a senior from North Hagerstown High School, waits to take part in a "senior ride" in the back of a truck in Hagerstown, Maryland. NDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images

For example, schools in Hagerstown, Maryland, hosted a "senior ride" to celebrate graduating students.

After prom and graduation were canceled, local families organized the ride. 

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds shot this photograph of Madey Hill, a senior embarking on her ride from the back of a truck.

And some students learned they preferred class outdoors.

A child plays in a field during a break as they attend a course in the forest in southeast France.
A child plays in a field during a break as they attend a course in the forest in southeast France. EFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images

With unconventional approaches to education this year, it meant that some students had the chance to learn in nature.

This photograph, taken by Jeff Pachoud, shows a child frolicking through a field during a break in his outdoor school in southeast France. 

Students still made incredible strides, and photographers were there to capture the moments.

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Yasmine Protho, 18, wears a photo of herself and "Class of 2020" on her mask as she graduates with only nine other classmates in Cusseta, Georgia. Brynn Anderson/AP Photo

Yasmine Protho graduated from Chattahoochee County High School in Cusseta, Georgia. 

With only nine other classmates, her school was able to have a more "traditional" ceremony. 

Brynn Anderson took this photograph of Protho on her graduation date in May.

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