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Experts Discuss Learning Loss, Social And Emotional Toll Of The Pandemic On Students

A drawing of several students learning in a classroom, with one student on his computer virtually learning.
LM Otero
Associated Press
Students wearing face masks work on computers at Tibbals Elementary School in Murphy, Texas.

For a number of K-12 students, being away from the classroom and learning virtually over the past year has caused them to slip academically and fall behind with their social and emotional skills. In a virtual panel, experts talked about ways to address these challenges.

In an event organized by Dallas-based Building Solutions, a group of educators and experts gathered virtually on Wednesday to address the challenges students are facing during the pandemic

Being away from the classroom and learning virtually over the past year has caused a number of K-12 students to slip academically.

But Sherril English, a clinical associate professor at Southern Methodist University, said many are also falling behind with the social and emotional skills they typically gain from in-person instruction.

“When students are missing those types of opportunities, of course, there's loneliness,” she said. “They begin to feel like, you know, am I learning? Where's the routine of the classroom?”

English said that loss of interaction will definitely impact students’ future success in society, especially for disadvantaged youth and students of color.

To counter that, she encourages students to get involved in the community — that could mean volunteering, shadowing a professional or getting a job of their own.

“Let them work at the grocery store and let them, you know, come into your businesses so that not only is it benefiting them, but it's also benefiting society because they're not just sitting at home trying to figure out for themselves now, where do I go?,” English said.

She says that will help prepare students for the future in ways they may have missed out on in school this year.

Bill Keslar with Building Solutions said a student's learning environment is another aspect to consider when talking about learning loss from the past year.

“Our learning is like exercising,” Keslar said. “There is stress needed in order to grow in order to advance, but too much stress can be harmful.”

He said things like temperature, lighting and having clean and orderly surroundings, can all affect how well a student absorbs information. That could be part of the reason why some students learning from home aren’t retaining information as well as when they're in school.

If an environment is not conducive to learning,“It's making negative statements that are not uplifting, and they don't add to the dignity of what's going on and the importance of what's going on in the space,” Keslar said.

Terry Flowers is the headmaster at St. Phillip’s School and Community Center. He said to regain some of the lost ground from the past year, parents will need to have an active role in their child’s learning.

For example, field trips haven’t been possible for many districts this year. Flowers suggested families organize their own educational outings in place of those.

“Visit some of these resources throughout the city, and not just visit to observe and look and point, but really use them as learning opportunities,” he said.

Flowers also advised parents to take advantage of summer programs that may be offered this year, especially for students who’ve fallen behind.

Got a tip? Email Rebekah Morr at You can follow her on Twitter @bekah_morr.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Rebekah Morr is KERA's All Things Considered newscaster and producer. She came to KERA from NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she worked as a news assistant at Weekend All Things Considered.