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After tumultuous 2020, schools prepared for delta variant

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Troy Knoderer, chief academic officer for the Metropolitan School District (MSD) of Lawrence Township, hopes the delta variant of COVID-19 won’t force students back into e-learning. Virtual learning created several challenges school districts are still trying to overcome.

“The most significant difficulty this school year is the fact that our students were disengaged from live instruction for several months,” Knoderer said. “This increased the learning needs for many students, and our biggest challenge now is helping to accelerate their learning.”

Last year, roughly 30% of students in Lawrence Township opted to continue e-learning. Knoderer said the data from last year clearly showed students who attended school in person had more academic success than those who decided to learn from home.

For many students, learning from home was difficult because many schools weren’t prepared for the shift in early 2020. Mylan Mann, who finished his last two years at North Central High School in Metropolitan School District of Washington Township, said many of the assignments he got were “busy work,” and not doing the assignments didn’t affect grades, so he didn’t take schoolwork as seriously.

Beyond disengagement that comes from being out of the classroom, many students throughout the city lacked basic access to the tools required to e-learn in the first place.

A national study earlier this year found 88.6% of Indianapolis households have internet access compared to 89.1% of the total United States population. Indianapolis has the 10th lowest percentage of households with internet access, and it’s Black and brown families disproportionally affected by the disparity.

While Knoderer emphasized his hope that students won’t have to switch back to e-learning due to COVID-19 — Indiana reported nearly 3,000 new cases Sept. 7 — Lawrence Township is ready to do whatever needs to be done to keep students safe and has the technology resources to keep students learning.

“Our district is one to one, meaning there’s one device for every student from kindergarten to 12th grade,” Knoderer said. “We’ve been that way even before the pandemic, so we’re in good shape if we have to go back to virtual learning.”

The township also provided families with Wi-Fi hotspots to ensure every student had internet access. Beyond technology support, Lawrence Township also offers students mental health support. While they’ve done this for several years now, Knoderer said the pandemic has increased the need.

A 2020 Gallup poll found 30% of parents reported a change in their child’s mental health, often stemming from isolation and a general fear of contracting COVID-19. To help students adapt to being back in the building and coping with everyday stress, Lawrence Township has emphasized social emotional learning, which helps students learn empathy and to manage emotions, as well as set realistic goals for themselves. The district has also added “advisor leads,” which are teachers who have been through specific trainings to help facilitate social emotional learning in each school in the district.

“We’ve learned a lot about how resilient we can be as educators over the past 18 months,” Knoderer said. “Now, I think the biggest thing is making sure that our students are learning and feel supported.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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