Rethinking and Reworking Strategies to Help Youth Complete High School during COVID-19
June 30, 2020
By Vaidehi Kudhyadi, Summer Intern
Many older students are at heightened risk of not graduating from high school due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ohio schools must rethink and rework their existing prevention strategies to reduce the number of young people at risk of potentially not returning to school this fall.
Ohio’s 2017-18 high school graduation rate of 85% for public school students is one of several measures compiled by the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio in the 2020 KIDS COUNT® County Profiles, which will be released August 12. This measure spotlights the problems we need to address in order to ensure every child is able to access educational and economic opportunities. Research shows that young people who do not complete their high school education are more likely to earn less and are more susceptible to health issues, highlighting the importance of ensuring our students obtain their high school degrees.
Approximately 124,000 public and private schools across the country shut down in the month of March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With academic buildings shut indefinitely, students faced unprecedented challenges ranging from the lack of in-person instruction to educational resources provided by schools, which negatively affects the academic and social development of students. Further, the current COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequities within the public-school system, directly impacting rates of high school completion in Ohio and across the country. In 2017-18, 4-year graduation rates in Ohio show that the graduation rates of young people identifying as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and Latinx are lower than the graduation rates of White/Non-Hispanic students, highlighting a divide in the educational experiences of young people and structural inequities that impact a child’s access to educational opportunities.
We must make every effort to support students so they can graduate high school prepared for success, with special focus on students of color who face additional barriers. To deter students from not returning to school due to inequities compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, schools and administrators may want to consider the following suggestions:
Redesign Mentoring Programs
Research suggests that young people are responsive to and benefit from the presence and active participation of trusted adults in their lives. In the “post-COVID” academic milieu, the development of new and existing relationships between young people and trusted adults may prove to be instrumental in providing individualized social and emotional support that students may seek out and may have been lacking as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mentoring.org has resources for this effort.
Address lack of access to technology
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the digital and technological divide that exists within the education system in Ohio and across the country. Administrators and educators should survey these technological disparities and come up with solutions to address them to ensure greater digital equity for all young people in their school district. InnovateOhio released a statewide broadband strategy to address technological inequity in Ohio. Distance education in the COVID era must fit the needs and abilities of individual students to provide young people with the specialized attention and differentiated learning they need to succeed academically and socially.
Emphasize the connection between high school graduation and career prospects
The challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic also undermine the importance of obtaining a high school diploma in light of economic instability and rising unemployment rates. By reiterating the relationship between an education and future career prospects, administrators and educators can deter young people from leaving school before obtaining their diplomas. Introduction of career literacy programs in schools may help provide students the guidance they need.
Create systems of peer-support/social interaction
For many young people, the school system provides an environment for socialization and interpersonal communication that is essential for development. However, in times of social distancing, this social system has been drastically altered, which could lead to social isolation, alienation, and contribute to student disengagement from school. School systems may consider encouraging systems of peer support as a part of curriculum to ensure social interaction and exchange during periods of remote learning. Peers for Progress has compiled a comprehensive list of resources and suggestions to help develop a sustainable peer support group at individual schools and colleges. Schools must make socioemotional learning and supports critical priorities as they consider reopening plans for the fall.
The COVID-19 pandemic proves to be an unprecedented challenge for the school system and individuals who are a part of it in Ohio and beyond. School districts must be prepared to combat multitudes of significant issues this fall and encouraging older youth to return to school may prove to be an important and challenging one. The COVID-19 pandemic requires schools to rethink their successful, preexisting prevention strategies and amend them to complement the needs and abilities of each individual school district.
To learn more about state and district-level education data, stay tuned for CDF-Ohio’s 2020 KIDS COUNT® County Profiles released on August 12, 2020.