Dealing with the emotional, academic toll of the pandemic as students head back to class

As the lights go back on in classrooms throughout the region, the challenge is not only getting kids back in safely but dealing with the emotional and academic toll of the pandemic.

Video Transcript

- So what is the state of our schools? Dozens of districts in New Jersey and on Long Island are still remote-only. New York City high school students will return to class next Monday for the first time since September. But it's a very small portion of the students that will go to high school. And the big question, could these months of Zoom learning and lack of classroom interaction have any kind of lasting impact, emotionally, educationally? Here's Eyewitness News reporter Anthony Johnson.

ANTHONY JOHNSON: As the lights go back on in classrooms throughout the region, the challenge is not only getting kids back in safely but dealing with the emotional and academic toll of the pandemic.

- Teachers are going to have conversations with students. How do you feel? How you feel about being back? How do you feel about being out for a year?

Once we get past that, then we can start putting in place, addressing the learning loss and finding out exactly where students are.

ANTHONY JOHNSON: That's the focus of the current or upcoming session. But all eyes are on the traditional return in September.

MEISHA ROSS PORTER: This is not going to be a routine opening. This is going to be a comeback. And so we have to be really thoughtful about what we want our students to come back into. We should not be thinking about how we will reopen what we had. We should be thinking about how we reopen moving forward.

ANTHONY JOHNSON: Experts say grade school kids, those transitioning to middle school or into high school, have had a tough time the last year. Efforts are underway to make sure kids are ready for the fall.

- If they're in third grade, we're going to give them a third grade assessment and see where they are, see where the shortcomings are. And then we're planning a summer program.

ANTHONY JOHNSON: There will also be after-school and Saturday enrichment programs in Paterson. But assessments show math is a subject where many kids have struggled. So much of the past year exposed the digital divide, a gulf between the haves and have-nots.

- The end result of COVID and the lost year on learning is that you're going to have huge gaps that are going to impact students for the next five or 10 years of their school careers, which is really unfortunate.

ANTHONY JOHNSON: There is a monumental task ahead, calling for innovation, maybe adjusting the school calendar, and some give and take. While parents want their kids to get back to learning, the kids themselves need more, meaning everyone will have to meet the students where they are after so much dramatic change.

- We need to give kids the space to re-learn how to be in school. We need to give kids the space to talk to, befriend, form relationships again.

ANTHONY JOHNSON: And we should share a positive note with the kids, highlighting the year of computer learning did prepare them for the future.

- Here's how you took advantage of those 11 months. Let's build on that now to accelerate some of the learning.