A year after COVID-19 shut schools, students and teachers share what shook them – and what strengthened them

By Erin Richards, Chris Quintana, Lindsay Schnell and Alia Wong, USA TODAY

rom grade school to graduate school, developing young minds in close physical proximity halted abruptly in mid-March 2020.

What happened next to schools and families was devastating and electrifying, thought-provoking and quieting, unifying and isolating. Homes became entire worlds. Working parents juggled daytime teaching. College students studied from childhood bedrooms. Millions of kindergartners started school in a format previously unfathomable: Zoom.

Teachers shifted to nurturing and encouraging through screens – with little training. Many hunted down students in person to ensure they were safe, fed and outfitted with resources to learn.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a set of real-world lessons too close and too fresh to be captured by textbooks: How does one manage lives lost? Calculate the damage of lost income? Measure new levels of mental fatigue? We interviewed more than 30 students and educators, of all ages and experience, about how they grew and changed in 2020 – or just made it to the next day.

Over the course of an extraordinary year, here’s what they learned. 

What surprised you the most about virtual or hybrid learning?

“The mask environment – having to teach through that, having to work with students through that and communicate through this barrier was a struggle. I couldn’t quite tell if they were getting it. My dad jokes just didn’t land.” – Josh Montgomery, 43, associate professor of computer science at Southern State Community College in Hillsboro, Ohio

When personal protective equipment was scarce at the beginning of the pandemic, Montgomery organized about 200 volunteers, most of them educators, to create and assemble face shields for first responders. With the help of 3D printers, the educators distributed more than 4,000 face masks to 51 medical organizations.

Read more here.

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