Bassett Avenue Elementary School students returning to class for the new school year. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Unified School District.

After more than a year of learning academic material through a computer screen, students in the Los Angeles Unified School District are finally returning to school in person as of August 2021, much to the relief, or dismay of some parents. 

Schools are ensuring the safety of the students by requiring masks to be worn at all times as well as daily COVID-19 check stations to make sure the students are healthy before entering school every day. However, these precautions don’t solve all of the parents’ worries.

Concerns regarding students’ production in the classroom after so much time being spent at home is a real concern.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be a smooth transition back into the classroom, but we’re all still learning,” said Cynthia Hoffmann, an LAUSD teacher.

The EdWeek Research Center surveyed students about their motivation since returning to class, as well as teachers whose particular outlook on student engagement and motivation might be the most significant. The findings from this survey show notable changes from this school year compared to years prior.

The results showed that about half of the students surveyed feel less motivated in school since the start of this school year than they felt when taking classes from home. And while 50% may be a steep percentage of students, the teachers that were surveyed noticed a whopping 87% of their students are less motivated in their studies than they were prior to returning to class in person. 

Interim Superintendent Megan K. Reilly asking students at Grover Cleveland Charter High School about returning to school. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Unified School District.

The visible lack of stimulation from students in school has parents worried and questioning whether their children should still be completing school online, or if schools should do a better job at making their classrooms more engaging. 

“It’s just not the way it was before the pandemic, and until schools learn that, it’s not going to get better,” said Pamela Sherwood, a Santa Clarita mother of a fifth-grade LAUSD student. 

There are a multitude of factors that could be interfering with the success of students in the classroom this year. One could simply be that there will inevitably be an adjustment period and it could be difficult for students to keep up with the change right away. Or another reason could be the isolation and individualism that students were forced to work in remotely. 

Despite many different efforts and use of features on virtual classroom websites, the concept of teamwork and really any other social collaborations were essentially obsolete for the duration of the pandemic. The lack of physical exchanges between classmates made it difficult to be fully in touch with each other.

When students are at school and in class together, they have no choice but to work together with each other while in class, but when everyone is working from home, the amount of outside distractions and disturbances can make trying to communicate extremely tedious. This can result in an even shorter attention span and lack of motivation while in the classroom because students have grown so accustomed to life online.

Maureen Gibson on Twitter: “Everyday we get better with our ZOOM classroom. the best part is being able to see those smiles and hear those voices ! #LongDIstanceLearning @HazletProud @#RVSisFutureReady @RVS_Principal @SchwarzHeather… https://t.co/JDe91xYe7I  

Along with communal troubles in the classroom, teachers are noticing that the pandemic may have also caused a decline in the already depleting attention spans of students. 

“Keeping their concentration in the class has definitely been my biggest challenge so far,” said Hoffman.

However, despite the worrisome start to the new school year, there is still assurance to be found in the fact that students are actually back at school in a time that once seemed unimaginable. 

Montara Avenue Transitional Kindergarten class. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Unified School District.

Attending in-person school, done safely, is known to improve the social and emotional skills of the youth as well as provide a solid foundation for children trying to achieve things that are simply unobtainable through online school. Learning online poses so many threats to children’s education that are fixed by simply returning to the classroom. 

Having friends and helpful peers are essential in a child’s growth and development both in the classroom and out. It has been proven that friendships early on in life help improve the mental and emotional state of young students. They feel more of a sense of community and less of a sense of loneliness. Plus, students complete assignments at a rate of five times higher in physical classrooms, as opposed to virtual ones. 

“I still am excited for him to be back at school. It will provide a lot of opportunities that he wouldn’t have gotten otherwise,” said Sherwood.

“This is just something we’ll have to overcome.”

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