Every morning, Philip Staroska starts his day by logging onto his computer and wishing his class of kindergarten students in Phoenix, Arizona a good morning. The spiking COVID-19 cases have kept this life-long educator out of the classroom for longer than he could’ve ever imagined.
There are days when all Staroska wants to do is give his students a hug or a high five, but instead, a virtual pat on the back over Zoom has to suffice.
“I would give anything to give my kids a high five, a hug, to be able to be like, ‘hey, come on, focus.’ It’s a lot more powerful in-person than over the screen,” Staroska said.
And yet, for as much as he longs to be in the classroom, Staroska knows with COVID-19 cases reaching record-high levels in his county, keeping kids and their families safe is taking precedent right now.
“I would love for it to be a normal school year, but it’s not,” he added.
It’s been a long, challenging year for teachers like Staroska across the country. Regardless of whether learning is occurring in-person or virtually, many educators are worried the pressures of the pandemic are dramatically impacting student’s academic progress.
“It’s just not the same as being in the classroom,” Staroska said.
His sentiments are shared by other teachers and administrators, trying their best to navigate the challenges of learning during a pandemic.
In Nashville, Tennessee, Dr. Kenyae Reese, a high school principal, is worried about the emotional impact this year is having on her high school students. In many cases, students are now taking part-time jobs to help parents who may have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
“We’re seeing high school kids who have to watch little siblings because their parents are out of work. It’s then juggling being a student, but I also have to monitor a younger sister or brother. There’s a lot more responsibility,” the principal said.
“Sometimes kids are working during the day because they may be one of the breadwinners, especially right now,” she added.
Another concern: attendance, especially among students who are starting to experience burnout.
“Even kids who are super strong with social media and technology are struggling. We just didn’t anticipate having to go this long.”