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COVID-19 has upended K-12 education. Some teachers say now is the time to build something better.

Children in the hallway of a school
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It will be a while before schools return to normal thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak. But some teachers say that maybe normal isn't worth returning to anyway.

When schools closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the way students were taught had to shift on a dime. Online platforms like Zoom became the new classrooms. These sudden changes have also highlighted the shortcomings and inequities of our current school system. That has some educators thinking about whether this crisis could be an opportunity to reinvent what school looks like this fall and beyond.

Jessyca Matthews is a teacher at Carmen-Ainsworth High School in Flint Township. She says the switch to online classes hasn’t been easy.

“I was not trained to be an online teacher, and my students were not trained to be online students," she told Stateside.

One of the biggest problems Matthews is dealing with right now is how to reach all her students. Some don’t have access to a computer or they have to share one with siblings. Students who live in more rural areas may not have the most steady Internet connections.

But Matthews has also been viewing this sudden change as a time to start thinking about how to make the education system work better for students like hers, who live in low-income communities. One way to do that? Ask the students, says Matinga RagatzStateside’s education commentator and an education consultant. 

“One of the things that I hope that this pause has given school administrators permission to do is not to just have to come up with the solutions themselves,”  Ragatz explained. “Within their walls, they have resources and kids who have ideas, kids who want to be a part of creating a better school and a better education opportunity for themselves.”

With the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, how and what children learn this fall is still up in the air. Maintaining physical distancing will impact the number of students who can be in a classroom at the same time, among other school operations. As administrators adjust how they do things for the the fall, Ragatz says they should also look at the opportunities to rethink school altogether. 

“We can see that we can pivot as a school system...and look at what the society needs first and then think about what our kids need,” Ragatz said. "That would give us the why, like why they are learning what they’re learning, rather than a bunch of different things in the hopes that when you get out in the world, you will be able to use that for some reason.”

Matthews says she hopes that schools can make long-lasting changes during this time of upheaval. To go back to a system that is not flexible to students’ needs, she says, would be the wrong choice. 

“I think it would be a huge injustice to be like ‘Whew, we all survived the pandemic, so let’s go back to the old way,'” Matthews said. "If you’ve looked at the community and were able to make the changes that quickly to help out because we’ve been heavily affected by COVID, and if you just flip right back, you are showing just temporary care.”

This article was written by Stateside production assistant Olive Scott.

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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