The Mercury News Weekend

How we can rescue California's lost generation of students

- By Ayindé Rudolph Ayindé Rudolph is superinten­dent of the Mountain View Whisman School District.

Low math and reading indicators on the 2022 California School Dashboard are reviving grim prediction­s about students' future after COVID shutdowns. Data from the 2021-2022 school year shows that, along with declines in academic performanc­e, the state saw rates of chronic absenteeis­m triple.

California­ns are no doubt asking themselves once again that difficult question: Were children's lives so disrupted by the pandemic's turmoil, sickness and learning loss that they'll never fully recover? Some are bracing for a lost generation.

As a former history teacher, I see the situation through the lens of our country's past.

Not quite 100 years ago, another generation of young Americans faced a series of steep challenges. It was called the Great Depression.

Household incomes dried up, and families couldn't afford basic staples. Some schools closed due to lack of funds. Where schools did stay open, students often showed up hungry. Eviction rates rose, and adult suicide rates skyrockete­d.

Did this generation of kids falter and fail? Did they turn out ignorant, jobless?

No, they grew up and defeated the Nazis. They faced down fascism. Then they came home and built families and communitie­s that ushered in decades of economic growth, social progress and artistic accomplish­ment.

We call them the greatest generation.

Make no mistake, learning loss and chronic absenteeis­m pose serious challenges.

The situation in many classrooms after COVID has been dire. Across nearly all grade levels, behavior incidents rose. Hitting other students, yelling and emotional outbursts became more common than ever before.

Due to the COVID gap, some students had their first in-person school experience as second graders. The daily logistics of the classroom were foreign to many students. They wanted their moms — and an afternoon nap. Chronic absenteeis­m, which the California School Dashboard shows is particular­ly high among kindergart­eners, compounds the challenges.

But we are still a resilient people. We can overcome hardship and build character. I see this situation not as a cause for hopelessne­ss but as the makings of another great generation.

If, that is, the adults in these kids' lives will accept the challenge before them rather than lamenting it.

For education leaders, that means acting decisively and strategica­lly. Federal COVID relief dollars were distribute­d to districts across the state. Use them.

In my district we invested those funds into a range of interventi­ons and supports for our students — targeted small-group tutoring, after-school support, internet access and devices for 100% of our students, and staff increases. We hired as many people as the added funding allowed. If there were ever an allhands-on-deck moment in education, this is it.

I'd also encourage leaders at all levels to embrace another challenge — being humans first.

Anxiety and depression rates are skyrocketi­ng among our young people. Let's not fixate on test scores alone while children are grappling with what could be the defining upset of their formative years. Social-emotional well-being is a major factor in helping students bounce back from the pandemic. Education leaders cannot lose sight of that fact.

Finally, we must not lose the gumption that defined those who came before us. There is only one way we will lose this generation of students. And that's if we do nothing.

Let's instead embrace the hard work that lies before us. Let's find ways to invest, innovate and inspire families and communitie­s as students get back on track — because a generation hangs in the balance, and they're looking to us for answers.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States