BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — School is always known to challenge its students. In recent history, no generation has been quite as tested as students during a year-long pandemic.
Closings and reopenings, differing opinions on the return to in-person learning and digital divides, have made local educators realize the need to put certain systems in place for the good of individual children.
When schools looked to close down for a while, Kern County Superintendent of Schools and the districts jumped into action.
“I just remember Friday 13, all 17 of our school districts coming together, some serving 40,000 students and some serving 20-something students to see how we could meet the needs of the children in Kern County,” said Dr. Mary C. Barlow, Kern County Superintendent of Schools. “A lot of our Kern County children live in poverty, so tried to keep things open as long as possible.”
Barlow said they started providing hotspots, tens of thousands of devices across all the districts. They also began training for staff to use virtual technologies like Zoom, Canva, and social and emotional support.
“That is what made it possible for people to get through the pandemic, being with one another, seeing that smile and checking in to say, ‘we’re okay, together,” Barlow said.
Students and teachers have been expressing that sentiment to each other from distance, with drive-by caravans across town.
Meanwhile, KCSOS and local districts are becoming more and more aware of the digital divide.
Full interview with Dr. Mary C. Barlow
“30% of our children live in poverty. 22% are English learners. When you combine those that are English learners and those that live in poverty, those are the students that have the most challenges with this transition to digital learning,” Barlow said.
That’s why when they could start bringing students back in October, they slowly did. Starting with those who need the most help.
Then the winter surge hit the county and our community hard. A limited stay-at-home order shut schools down once again.
“The winter was a very heavy surge across the country, we felt that here in our community,” said Public Health Assistant Division Director of Health Services Kimberly Hernandez.
Approaching 2021, a beacon of hope in the form of a vaccine arrived. Cases began going down and schools slowly began opening up.
Barlow said most districts are planning to bring students back between April through May if they haven’t already.
Through it all, students and educators have learned lessons along the way. Barlow said the importance of communication with parents and students is one, and meeting students individual needs whether academic, social, or emotional.
Data from KCSOS and the three major school districts in the county, the Kern High School District, Panama Buena Vista Union, and the Bakersfield City School District discovered a drop in grades. The Kern Integrated Data System announced a 14% increase in D’s and F’s among their six through 12th graders in Fall 2020, compared to 2019.
“We’re using our research from our kid’s database to better understand those needs, then adopt best practices,” Barlow said. "We almost call it a Marshall Plan. I say that because, after World War II, there was a plan that was developed to rebuild Europe and rebuild America. We need to rebuild our education system.”
Barlow said one option to help could be utilizing summer school and a fifth quarter or fourth trimester in early July to catch students up. They’re also discussing possible early on-boarding in August, Saturday academies, and extra hours after school with tutoring groups.