Educators should use summer and early fall to reengage students who pulled away from school during the pandemic to mitigate the risk that they'll remain disengaged and potentially drop out, Tesha Robinson, an assistant principal at Collinsville High School in Illinois, recommends in an Edutopia article.
She recommends techniques like “Mobile Mondays” (which can be adapted for any specific day), when a team reaches out to disengaged students to offer support and show interest in their well-being. Registration is also a good time to reach out, providing an opportunity to invite students’ families to participate in the registration process and welcome them back to the school before the new school year begins.
Schools can also offer a transition track for students who can’t step back into daily in-person classes immediately, Robinson writes, suggesting a half-day program may make it easier for disengaged students to return to the classroom after so many months away.
During the pandemic, marginalized students were at the highest risk of disengaging from school. For administrators and teachers, just connecting with students in low-income areas was often a challenge.
Experts who spoke during virtual sessions during this year's SXSW EDU conference said the trick is to build deeper relationships with at-risk students through in-person interactions. For assessing whether students are engaged or not, they suggested educators consider four factors:
- Whether the student is present in class.
- How the student feels about the learning process.
- If the student is focused and involved during class.
- If the student is socially connected or seems lonely.
An EdWeek Research Center survey shows about 50% of students feel less motivated in the 2020-21 school year compared to the previous year. Teachers’ views of students’ motivation levels were significantly more dire, with 87% reporting students are less motivated now than pre-pandemic. Student morale also suffered, with 49% of students report lower levels than before the school shutdowns. Among teachers, 82% felt student morale had suffered.
This is important because more engaged students are more willing to participate in class and more likely to persist through learning challenges. They also typically perform higher academically than their less-engaged peers. A longitudinal study from Australia also suggests engaged students ended up with higher-level occupations.
Some districts have already seen high levels of participation in returns to traditional in-person schedules. At Matawan Regional High School in Monmouth County, New Jersey, for example, Principal Aaron Eyler attributes high engagement to the school’s communication and support team strategies.
When it was announced students would resume pre-pandemic schedules on May 2, a team of administrators, teachers and staff worked with families to design custom schedules for those not ready to return full-time. Eyler also suggests administrators allow families time to digest all the new information being thrown at them.