MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Educators are trying their best to track down students who still haven’t returned to class.
Before in-person learning became an option, some kids hadn’t logged on virtually in months.
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The problem is far greater in inner-city neighborhoods, where some children are already at a disadvantage.
In a special report, “Classroom Casualties,” FOX13 took a closer look at what one district is doing to combat learning loss.
Only 10 percent of Dr. Rodney Peterson’s students returned to in-person learning the first week it was offered at Westside Middle School in Frayser.
Kids in Frayser Community Schools were already struggling during virtual learning.
At times, only 40 to 50 percent of students in the district logged on for class.
Now, the challenge is trying to find those students who never returned.
“Virtual learning affected me. It didn’t turn out so good, but when I came back to school, it’s been turning out good for me,” said Chris Miller, a student at Westside Middle School.
Miller joined only 10 percent of his peers who returned to in-person learning the first week Frayser Community Schools allowed students back into the classrooms.
“I can focus and do my work, so I can’t fall asleep. It’s a comfortable environment for me to do my work, but it’s not a comfortable environment for me to sit around and go to sleep on my desk,” he said.
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Now, the district has to track down a lot of children who fell behind during the pandemic, according to Peterson.
Many never returned to virtual or in-person learning.
Some students as young as middle school-age couldn’t concentrate because they had to work just to help their family survive, said Peterson.
“Trying to get these businesses to understand that it’s illegal to have a student that young working, particularly during school hours… COVID has uprooted a lot of that, and so what we found out is that the parents lost jobs, and they were trying to support the family,” said Peterson.
Peterson doesn’t expect attendance to improve until all districts revert back to full in-person models.
“Those kids who were doing well in person, they were struggling virtually. Even though it’s the same model that we’re doing in person, what we’re seeing is they’re more engaged.”
District leaders are trying to get students back into the classrooms by sending truancy officers to their homes.
Teachers hope to mitigate learning loss through a four-week summer learning academy for rising 6th through 8th graders.
The high school also offers summer school for credit recovery, but educators say it’s likely the problem will get worse before it gets better.
“My biggest concern are those students who have fallen off, whose attendance has just been… we haven’t seen them in a while. My concern is, are you ok,” Peterson added.
Miller understands why students would fall off.
He used to be a straight-A student before the pandemic.
It wasn’t until he returned to in-person learning that his teachers noticed an improvement.
“School might be a busy place, too, but you have classrooms where you can focus.”
Before COVID, Frayser Community Schools’ attendance averaged about 95 percent for middle school and 82 to 85 percent for high school.
As far as Shelby County Schools, the district is addressing learning loss by offering family data nights to educate parents on their child’s progress.