Coping With Covid in Kentucky Part II: A Call to Action for Post-Online Learning

The second in our Coping With Covid series, this report includes quotes that underscore that while school districts were forced to quickly pivot to online learning for student safety, many could have better addressed both student and educator needs.

This study is the second part of a larger Kentucky Student Voice Team led study into learning during the time of COVID, begun in the Spring of 2020.

To date, this collaborative study has included a state-wide survey and more recently, two rounds of peer-to-peer interviews. In the first round of Coping with COVID Interviews, 32 peer-to-peer interviews were conducted during Fall of 2021. These interviews took place over Zoom, and participants were paid for their participation.

In the second round of interviews, an additional 18 peer-to-peer interviews were conducted. In both sets of interviews, interview questions asked students their perspectives on their current school situations, the status of their socio-emotional well-being, and experiences during remote, hybrid, and back to in-person learning. The interview analysis team was comprised Kentucky Student Voice team members, as well as adult allies from the University of Kentucky. The work of the analysis team was to review the interview data in its entirety, searching for emergent themes and patterns. The current report highlights these themes from the second set of peer-to-peer interviews, as well as KSVT researcher reflections on the process of doing the research itself.

Our Reason for Research

This report is based on data from the second phase of the Kentucky Student Voice Team’s Coping with Covid Study. Its purpose is to highlight findings with the intention of continuing to ensure that student voices, experiences, and perspectives are heard and valued as school-based decisions are made that impact students’ learning lives. In this report, dozens of student testimonies will be shared. Student testimonies hold insight into how they learn, including their experiences, challenges, and perspectives on school, curriculum, and teaching. Such insights matter for students’ educational experiences inside and outside of a pandemic.

The shifts and struggles students have experienced will continue to have effects long after the pandemic ends, as exemplified by responses throughout these interviews. The COVID pandemic has shifted the way that the world – including schooling– works, with a greater frequency and prevalence of hybrid or online learning. In what follows, readers will hear explicitly about what works in the context of online schooling and what may no longer work in the context of in-person schooling.

Taken together, this work sheds insight into contemporary questions of best practices for teaching and learning in Kentucky in 2022 and beyond. Our team, consisting of six student researchers and two adult allies affiliated with the  University of Kentucky, recognizes that students continue to have a story to tell regarding their education and the effect the pandemic continues to have on it. As a student voice team, we are firm believers that this type of data is a testament to the power students and adults together can play in leading research, practice, and policy in education.

Our Main Findings

1. Students' reactions to online schooling was varied but skewed heavily negative

While students’ reactions to online schooling varied, most skewed heavily negative. Few options were given for alternate learning, leaving students with little access to technology or preferences for alternative learning methods feeling left behind. Many interactive aspects of the classroom were seldom offered such as group work and one-on-ones with teachers.

2. Most students saw a need for more consistent and collaborative decision-making by school administrators

Students expressed an almost universal frustration with decisions made by administration with regard to how academics, social emotional well-being, and COVID health protocols were handled. Students voiced how difficult it had been to reach out to administrators, which unfortunately resulted in them feeling like their concerns were of less importance.

3. Students’ mental health needs and lack of school and home boundaries impacted both their well-being and their schooling

The fact that the COVID pandemic had an impact on people’s mental health and well-being is increasingly well documented. Young people’s mental health was also impacted in negative ways. Less known at the current moment, however, are the longer- term impacts of such a drastic change in how students managed and dealt with the severe shift in their everyday schooling as a function of COVID induced changes.

4. Sudden loss of social connections with peers and with supportive teachers greatly impacted student learning

Many students communicated that social connection and interactions made a significant difference for their capacity and enjoyment of learning. Going from an in-person environment to an almost completely isolated virtual format, students experienced shock and grief at the loss of the social aspects of learning that are integral parts of the student experience.

Our Recommendations for Educational Practice

Prioritize student mental health by adapting workload and class structure, and advocate for better awareness and access to mental health counselors

  • Consider adding in student mental health days
  • Carry out mental health check in surveys with students
  • Integrate mindfulness/meditation/relaxation opportunities in school

Allow for more transparency in understanding material and provide additional support for students

  • Review material that was not covered adequately over remote setting
  • Adapt and include different methods if all students are underperforming
  • Integrate peer tutoring and student-to-student support systems

Demonstrate care for students’ vast and varied circumstances

  • Be cognizant of equity differences
  • Humanize the struggles during and after COVID

Consider health precautions through a new perspective

  • Make necessary adjustments for immunocompromised individuals
  • Execute clear communication regarding possible exposure

Actively seek to involve students in the decision-making processes

  • Add voting student members on school board, site-based decision making, etc.
  • Consider implementing surveys and roundtables to gather student perspectives

Implement equity-oriented positive reinforcement systems to celebrate student achievements and foster supportive school climates

Create an environment where students can connect with each other and teachers

  • Make time for social connection in the classroom agenda
  • Value and incorporate student interests and experiences into learning

Challenge the normative notion that a students’ value is tied to academic successes

  • Celebrate student achievements beyond a solely academic context
  • Utilize a variety of grading methods that emphasize student progress and mastery

Utilize more interactive teaching practices

  • Consider project-based learning and lab opportunities
  • Amplify group work and partner work opportunities

Report Authors:

Spandana Pavuluri, Sofie Farmer, Esha Bajwa, Avery Lenihan, Cadence Brown, Francis Musoni and the Kentucky Student Voice Team

Adult Allies:

Dr. Daniela DiGiacomo and Dr. Beth Goldstein of the University of Kentucky

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