Education

A review of data from K-12 schools that reopened for in-person instruction in the fall has found little evidence that schools contributed meaningfully to the spread of COVID-19, according to a new article published Tuesday in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association.

The Americans with Disabilities Act says schools have to help not just students but parents with disabilities, too, like making sure deaf or blind parents can communicate during parent-teacher conferences. But what happens when kids are learning at home? That's uncharted territory.

A Please Complete Act 46 Survey ASAP sign outside of Putney Central School
Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

Over the last few weeks, five towns in Vermont have held special elections to determine whether or not they want to leave their recently merged school districts.

Last spring, the pandemic stole Maddie Harvey's job on campus in the Dean of Students office. She was finishing up her senior year at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., and without the income from her job, she wasn't going to have enough money to pay her upcoming tuition bill.

"It was definitely a very vulnerable situation that I was in," says Harvey, "it's not easy to talk about when you're struggling, especially knowing that so many people were struggling at one time."

Don Brown has been driving a school bus for more than 20 years in the Chicago area. And for all that time, he's noticed one odd student habit.

As they climb aboard his bus, "when they get to the top step, they always cough," he says. "This was even before the pandemic! Or, when they get ready to get off, they say 'Bye, bus driver!' and they cough."

Because of this, Brown says, he hopes he'll be getting the vaccine, "as soon as I can."

Logo for The Frequency podcast, from VPR.
Lara Dickson / For VPR

Politicians, students, and teachers are all processing what happened when a mob attacked the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Today, we hear from them.

A woman in a face mask at a classroom desk on a computer page with articles about removing Donald Trump from office
Courtesy

The morning after a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., teachers and students here in Vermont returned to the classroom. And they talked about it.

Since the beginning of this pandemic, experts and educators have feared that open schools would spread the coronavirus further, which is why so many classrooms remain closed. But a new, nationwide study suggests reopening schools may be safer than previously thought, at least in communities where the virus is not already spreading out of control.

With millions of kids still learning remotely, the learning losses are piling up.

A building on the Castleton University campus when snow is on the ground.
Nina Keck / VPR File

It’s been quite a year for the Vermont State Colleges System.

Back in April, then-Chancellor Jeb Spaulding surprised many with a proposal to close three campuses in the system. That was met with intense backlash; the proposal was eventually tabled and Spaulding resigned. He was replaced by Sophie Zdatny.

It can feel like a parallel universe when you go from a city where kids are cooped up inside at home doing school virtually on their tablets to an isolated small town such as Bruneau, Idaho.

One afternoon this week, the bell had just rung and kids were emptying out of the small elementary school and into the snowy parking lot, almost as if it's 2019 and there is no pandemic.

No one appears to be wearing a mask, which is just fine with parents such as Cassandra Folkman.

"I don't make them wear 'em anywhere we go," Folkman says. "I don't wear one and they don't."

All throughout high school, Brian Williams planned to go to college. But as the pandemic eroded the final moments of his senior year, the Stafford, Texas, student began to second-guess that plan.

"I'm terrible at online school," Williams says. He was barely interested in logging on for his final weeks of high school; being online for his first semester at Houston Community College felt unbearable.

"I know what works best for me, and doing stuff on the computer doesn't really stimulate me in the same way an actual class would."

Logo for The Frequency podcast, from VPR.
Lara Dickson / For VPR

How teenagers are getting information about COVID-19. Plus, an electric grid bottleneck, warrantless searches by border patrol, and COVID-19 numbers.

A sidewalk going past a pole with a sign reading North Country Union High School on a grey day
Anna Van Dine / VPR

Staying on top of the latest news about COVID-19, and sifting through information online, can be a challenge — especially if you’re a teenager.

Puppet show with a red octopus against a blackboard
Vermont Family Network, Courtesy

Worry is normal in healthy amounts, but this year, Vermont's younger students may be feeling more than is healthy. With the help of Vermont Family Network and some savvy puppeteers from Puppets in Education, some students in Vermont schools are learning how to not let worry and anxiety overwhelm them.

A sign urging social distancing greets visitors to the Davis Center on UVM's campus.
Abagael Giles / VPR File

Last week, administrators at the University of Vermont announced that they plan to cut 12 majors, 11 minors and four master's programs from the College of Arts and Sciences. University leaders say persistent budget deficits and low enrollment in certain programs make these cuts necessary.

Jayme Henderson says her college's decision to cancel fall graduation over coronavirus concerns felt like "a slap in the face."

Henderson, a graduating senior at the University of Missouri in Columbia, remembers thinking about the campus activities that hadn't been cancelled: Football was still on, with fans still able to attend games in-person, and there were even some in-person classes. To make matters worse, the email cancelling fall commencement arrived the same day as another email detailing parking restrictions for big game day crowds.

Deborah Rosenthal starts her virtual kindergarten class on Zoom every morning with a song — today, it's the Spanish version of "If You're Happy and You Know It." Her students clap along. There's a greeting from the class mascot (a dragon), yoga, meditation and then some practice with letter sounds: "Oso, oso, O, O, O."

Nikita Chinchwade moved from India to the U.S. last fall to get a master's degree.

"It had been a dream of mine for a very long time because of the quality of education here," she says.

A sweeping new review of national test data suggests the pandemic-driven jump to online learning has had little impact on children's reading growth and has only somewhat slowed gains in math. That positive news comes from the testing nonprofit NWEA and covers nearly 4.4 million U.S. students in grades three through eight. But the report also includes a worrying caveat: Many of the nation's most vulnerable students are missing from the data.

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