Members of a Missouri House subcommittee voiced concerns Thursday about some teachers who are having a hard time connecting with a number of their students learning remotely this year. The Subcommittee on Appropriations – Education shared their message to a group of Missouri K-12 education officials submitting their state budget requests.
Representative Brenda Shields, R-St. Joseph, said a teacher in her district has not heard a peep from about 30% of her students since school started five weeks ago. The teacher has emailed. She has called. She has tried to leave messages. So far, crickets.
“I can’t imagine a middle schooler being at home alone and trying to think about how they are supposed to self-motivate and get connected,” Shields said. “When you can’t get a hold of a parent to be a partner in this educational event, it’s just really hard. We need to take some action now so that next year, we’re not going, ‘What are we going to do with 30 ten-year-olds that are clear across the spectrum.’”
Shields, who is married to Missouri Board of Education President Charlie Shields, wants the state to look for ways to help schools connect with these students.
“I know that there are some districts that have much more engagement than others, but we’re probably at 20% of kids that we’ve lost and we can’t afford to lose these children,” says Shields. “We’ll be paying for it the rest of our lives.”
Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, said he thinks some teachers are feeling “additional pressure” to “chase after kids” in a way they did not have to before COVID-19 emerged.
Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Deputy Commissioner Kari Monsees said the department has focused on preparing teachers and leaders to deliver education during the pandemic.
“The actual transaction of connecting that school setting to the home setting is always a difficult one, especially when they are not coming to school every day if there’s not a bus bringing them every day. In many cases, these are families who chose to do a virtual option – it wasn’t something that was forced upon them. So, that is the challenging part for the school – the parent made this choice for their family and yet they are not forcing, or re-enforcing, the need to be engaged and involved,” says Monsees. “That is in some ways an age-old question because even the parents that do expect their kids to come to school every day, not every case do they engage at school.”
Monsees said some schools are mobilizing staff to knock on doors to reach parents and their kids.
“There are some schools that are reaching the vast majority of their students and then there are others that are struggling. There’s just no two ways about it,” he says. “They are really struggling at times, but I do think everybody is making the effort they can to draw the students in as best they can.”
Shields said teachers are doing tasks they did not sign up to do, like juggling to educate a group of kids in a traditional classroom and a group of students doing distance learning – adding to an already sizeable workload. She urged the department to dig deeper.
“What program can we put together to help our schools,” ask Shields. “The teachers that are doing all of this, really shouldn’t be expected to go knock on these doors.”
Monsees said he thinks if districts wanted to pull together a team of people to reach students, they could use federal funding designated to them for that job.
Rep. Richey said 20% to 30% of the student population is being harmed by 1% to 2% of the population that comes down with COVID-19. He said school districts should consider going back to having in-person classes four to five days a week and offering online classes to quarantined students.
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