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Education During the Pandemic

With the fall semester coming to an end at public schools across Texas, many educators are evaluating what was their fourth semester of teaching during a pandemic.

Mark Clemence-Porras, 24, is a middle school math teacher and coach in Dallas. He has some concerns that the pandemic has caused students to fall behind in school, especially in math.

“When I began teaching on Zoom right when the pandemic first started, I could tell that student were struggling,” he said. “The results of our first test since moving to Zoom averaged at like a 70% average between all five of the classes I taught,” Clemence-Porras said.

STARR is the standardized testing used in all the public school across Texas and its data shows that students have regressed since the pandemic.

Visual by Matthew Dvorsky/Source: https://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/2021/06/23/texas-braces-for-bad-staar-results-that-are-every-bit-as-problematic-as-we-thought/
Visual by Matthew Dvorsky/Source: https://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/2021/06/23/texas-braces-for-bad-staar-results-that-are-every-bit-as-problematic-as-we-thought/

Texas public school students in 5th grade and 8th grade are required to take the mathematics portion of the STARR test and data shows that students in both grades have been failing at a higher rate after the start of remote learning caused by the pandemic.

Clemence-Porras was excited to move back into the classroom this fall but he was quickly met with another challenge.

“I was genuinely excited when I first learned we were going to be back to in person learning this year,” he said. “I soon remembered that we are still living in a pandemic when every other day a student or even myself one time would get COVID and would miss one to two weeks leaving me to teach both on Zoom and in the classroom which I think left the kids on Zoom at a disadvantage.”

Clemence-Porras says there are two main reasons as to why students are struggling with remote learning.

“For one thing if they got COVID they probably got sick and don’t want to get on Zoom and learn equations for an hour,” he said. “And another thing is that it’s hard to cater to kids on Zoom when I’m teaching in the classroom, it’s hard to juggle both sets of students,” he finished.

COVID-19 cases did see an increase in cases across Texas in August and September right around when school started back up.

Visual by Matthew Dvorsky/ Source: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/us/texas-covid-cases.html

Texas Department of State Health Services has kept track of new cases between students and staff members across all public school in Texas and the data shows a similar trend of cases rising at the beginning of the semester and lowering as the year goes on.

Visual by Matthew Dvorsky/ Source: https://dshs.texas.gov/coronavirus/schools/texas-education-agency/
Visual by Matthew Dvorsky/ Source: https://dshs.texas.gov/coronavirus/schools/texas-education-agency/

While students and teachers face challenges from kindergarten through high school levels, college students are facing challenges of their own.

Spencer Shellshear,23, lives in Houston, Texas and is a community college student at Lone Star College. He like many other students struggled with having to learn remotely.

“Yeah, moving to Zoom was pretty awful,” Shellshear said. “I just can’t learn like that through a computer screen. I’m more of a hands-on learner and some of my grades definitely reflected that.”

Many students throughout the pandemic struggled with remote learning. The hassles of bad internet connections and other software problems made life difficult on students. But for some students like Benjamin Martinez, a 24-year-old senior at Texas State University, struggled more with returning to in-person classes while still in the middle of a pandemic.

“I just thought it was a little too soon you know? We all want things to go back to normal but when we came back to campus COVID cases were still going up,” Martinez said. “My classrooms were full, and the buses were packed. I just didn’t feel that safe and I felt like I could get the COVID on any given day just going to class.”

Texas State University’s campus is back with in-person learning this semester after being empty for over a year. Students are back on campus and are advised to wear masks, but they are not mandatory except on the Bobcat Shuttles. Many students wear masks while in the classrooms but choose not to while walking around campus. This appears to be the new norm at Texas State for now and the near future.

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged students across the country from grade school to the university level and students have fought hard to get through the pandemic. With COVID-19 cases improving by the month along with people getting vaccinated hopefully students see life getting back to normal sooner rather than later.

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