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Stateside: Looking back at the year in K-12 education

Green Chameleon

Today on Stateside, we look back at the pandemic year in K-12 education. We check in with the superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools about hopes to return to classrooms in 2021 and what else the new year may bring. Also, we talk to two experts about what educational divides that widened during the pandemic. Plus, we’ve gathered voices of teachers who share their first-hand experiences teaching this year.

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Listen to the full show above or find individual segments below.

Grand Rapids Public Schools gets a new leader in the middle of the pandemic

Stateside’s conversation with Leadriane Roby


  • Leadriane Roby is the superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools

Roby spoke with Stateside about starting her job as Grand Rapids Superintendent this summer— right in the middle of the pandemic. One of the first decisions she had to make in her role was whether children would return to school in the fall. 
The community expressed that they were not comfortable going back to school, and since then Grand Rapids Public School District has been fully remote. While Roby believes they were prepared for many of the challenges remote learning would present, she says there was still room for improvement in that initial plan.

“We were more focused on the logistics and kind of the technical pieces. And the other pieces around the social, emotional needs of our students are important and have always been important, but I don’t think we really tapped into that soon enough,” Roby said.

COVID-19 exposes festering problems and education divides in K-12 system 

Stateside’s conversation with Matinga Ragatz and Koby Levin

  • Matinga Ragatz is an education consultant and Stateside commentator
  • Koby Levin is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit

Levin wrote a story this year about the decline in enrollment at schools across the state. There are 50,000 less students in Michigan public schools this year compared to last year. He said this may be due to parents homeschooling or transfering their children to private schools, but many students are simply not attending online classes.
“The question is what can and should be done to bring these students back in to the fold and just make sure they have the social services and educational services that they would normally be getting,” Levin said. “For those students, you really are looking at a tragic and really challenging loss of learning that could haunt them and haunt us as a society for a long time.”

Ragatz says that schools that are focused on content, instead of social and mental health development, are driving students out of their doors. Ragatz emphasized that teaching students how to cope with their environment is not a ‘soft skill,’ but rather, a necessary skill for their development.

“We need to take care of our students, not in coddling them, but in teaching them how to cope and how to build in their own skills, and how to have their own successes rather than just telling them and patting them on the back and moving them onto the next level,” Ragatz said.

Teachers feel the full impact of a year marked by crisis

Stateside’s conversation with Samantha Cherwalk, Janine Scott James Kelly, Tara Cleveland, and Jessyca Matthews

  • Tara Cleveland is a middle school choir teacher in West Michigan.
  • Janine Scott is a master math teacher at Davis Aerospace Technical High School in Detroit.
  • Samantha Cherwalk teaches at Tinkham Educational Center, an alternative high school in the Wayne Westland school district. 
  • James Kelly is an English Language Arts teacher for 9th and 10th graders at the Early College Alliance in Ypsilanti. 
  • Jessyca Matthews teaches English at Carmen Ainsworth High School in Flint, Michigan.
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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