Officials say learning loss in Steamboat not as bad as national narrative
Students who struggled the most before the pandemic are being hit the hardest.
The Steamboat Springs School District has every intention of returning to normal operations next fall at the start of the 2021-22 school year.
“The district’s stance for next year is we will be in-person, five days a week, without masks, unless we receive alternative guidance, and by guidance, I mean unless we are mandated to not do either of those things,” said Board of Education President Kelly Latterman in a meeting Monday.
But returning to normal will take more than seeing students’ faces again. There is learning loss from the past year that will need to be addressed, even though district officials say it is not the chasm feared in the early months of the pandemic. Parents also are concerned about their children’s mental health after a stressful and constantly changing year.
“I think it is important to keep us in check, because some of the national narrative (is) that we’ve got this huge academic loss,” said Jay Hamric, the district’s director of teaching and learning. “That isn’t the case here in Steamboat.”
Interim assessments of elementary and middle school students indicate the district is close to academic proficiencies in previous years. Reading and writing scores are almost the same, while math scores have seen a slight dip, which reflects a national trend, Hamric said.
Incomplete reading assessment results from this spring show students are achieving 131% of the learning outcomes for their grade level, close to the districts scores last year, Hamric said.
“Sometimes, that message is against what we see in the newspaper or another district or someplace else, but all of our information is being informed by the student data,” Hamric said.
Teachers anecdotally tell Hamric that while the hybrid model is not the ideal situation, it largely has worked. While there is less overall classroom time, smaller classes have allowed teachers to better address individual student’s needs.
“When people feel differently, then sometimes it becomes an issue of what they see as transparency. I don’t think that is the case here,” Latterman said. “There is full acknowledgment from the district that there are many students who’ve struggled this year, struggled in past years, and there is certainly more this year.”
Rather than impacting a broad swath of students, Hamric said it is students who struggled in school before the pandemic that are having the hardest time now.
“We’re hiring more interventionists next year at all grade levels, and we’re going to have additional teacher support for those small groups of targeted students who we see are struggling.” Hamric said.
The district’s academic recovery plan prioritized collaboration and training among staff with the district’s schedule being modified to dedicate more time for this communication. Afterschool programs also will be back in place next year, and Hamric said there are about 15 teachers signed up to work summer school to help students catch up or prevent a summer slide.
Superintendent Brad Meeks said the district is also considering the academic impact to students who left the district during the pandemic, are returning this fall and may need additional intervention and support.
“That pain that the families are feeling, parents are feeling, and the kids are feeling is significant,” board member Katy Lee said. “The parents that are advocating for their kids right now, we recognize that you are dealing with a lot of pain.”
When it comes to mental health, there is not clear data to point to what students are feeling, but Hamric said anecdotally, counselors report students are doing well and are enjoying their time at school.
“It is a little bit of a strange paradox,” Hamric said, explaining that anxiety and stress among students was less in the classroom, likely because there were fewer students. “This isn’t saying that there wasn’t a great impact from the pandemic at home and anxiety about where (students are) with learning, classes at the high school, getting caught up and college — there was a lot of that.”
But in the classroom, teachers did not report seeing behaviors signaling a student struggling with their mental health, Hamric said. Still, students are dealing with a variety of things that won’t be seen in the classroom, and Hamric said the district needs better organization of the wide variety of resources it offers.
This includes hiring a consultant to review what the district currently offers and work with teachers and administration about what priorities they have for the next several years around mental health.
“While we have a lot of staff and a lot of programs, we need to create a unified vision of where we are going so that our programs are aligned,” Hamric said.
The district created a mental health mission statement emphasizing equity and has set priorities for the next 12 to 18 months. Part of this involves hiring a social-emotional screener, who could identify students who are not showing obvious signs they are struggling.
Another consultant was added to look specifically at counseling at Steamboat Springs High School and will offer suggestions about how those services could be changed to better serve students.
The district recently received a grant to fund a mental health coordinator position for the next five years. This position will be aimed at bringing together the district’s various mental health initiatives.
“The more we talk about (mental health), and the more we make it part of our normal conversation on health, the better,” Lee said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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