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A Kansas Teacher Worries About Catching Up Kids Who Started School During The Pandemic

Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Student teacher Maria Martinez helps a kindergartener at Mark Twain Elementary in Kansas City, Kansas, with her backpack.

Maria Martinez is a senior at Emporia State University in Kansas. She is currently a student teacher in a kindergarten classroom in the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools.

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With support from the Walton Family Foundation, KCUR has asked student teachers in the Kansas City area to write about their experiences learning how to teach during a pandemic. We'll be running their stories as a series of teacher diaries in the coming weeks.

The pandemic has affected early childhood in more ways than families, teachers and schools can even know at the present moment. Students in the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools were online from mid-March 2020 until the end of March 2021. Some students are still learning online due to the individual decisions of families. That means there are kindergarteners who only just started experiencing the classroom — and others that will for the first time as first graders in August.

First graders will come in knowing what it looks like to follow rules in school, the letters in the alphabet, various digraphs and blends (sounds like /sh/, /th/, and /ch/ for example), various sight words, writing their numbers to 20 and reciting them to 100, as well as grade-level science and social studies skills. Kindergarteners practice this and more as they go through their first year of public school. The goal is to make sure that each student is ready to start first grade by the end of the year. As the mantra for the classroom I am in goes, students are learning all these things “to become better readers and writers.”

Unfortunately, there will be students who will not have all the skills needed to move on, and there will be students who struggle to catch up. As we have come back to school, some students are still learning to follow rules, how to write their names or how to read, write and recognize numbers. Because of the pandemic, schools and teachers are preparing for students who need additional support in regaining lost ground from this school year. This can come in the form of reading resources that provide students with a gamified version of learning to motivate each to practice their skills at home or in the form of pull-out services where students are meeting with a specialist one-on-one and in small groups to work on improving their academic or social-emotional skills.

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Maria Martinez welcomes kindergarteners back to Mark Twain Elementary in the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools.

This "gamification of learning" actually plays to this particular set of students’ strengths because these apps are virtual games. Though I have seen students struggle with other skills in the classroom, they are better at navigating their technological devices than many adults. These technological skills they learned are skills that can be played to when supporting students in the months to come.

These are methods already used to help students who need extra support in learning. With the unusual academic year that has been 2020-2021, schools and teachers are expecting to have more students in this place of need. Teachers can adapt activities and expectations to students’ needs throughout the year.

For me, this is especially important for this incoming group of students. As I move into my own classroom next year, I’m trying to keep in mind that my students are coming in with bits and pieces of the previous academic year. They may not be coming in with all the skills they need to be successful according to what the standards will require of them. Many students will be in vastly different places based on how they were able to cope with this academic year. The question of equity in an academic year like this one with hybrid and remote learning models is that students did not have a choice in how well-suited their environment was for learning.

It is my job as a teacher to not only give students a fair learning experience but make the learning experience equitable. This comes from my own teaching philosophy of giving every student what they need to be successful and recognizing that this will not be the same for every student because their starting points will be in different places. My hope is that the students coming in with “bits and pieces” will hopefully regain what they need to have the “whole” next school year.

Maria Martinez is a senior at Emporia State University in Kansas. She is currently a student teacher in a kindergarten classroom in the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools. She is one of two Walton education fellows sharing her experiences in the classroom this semester.
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