Survey finds student learning, mental health suffered during pandemic

A girl in a face mask kneels in front of a locker as others walk by.
Eighth grader Amy Schwoch showed off her binder to her friend Julia Peterson on the first day of school at Carlton High School in September 2020 in Carlton, Minn. Students and staff were required to wear masks and maintain social distancing in classrooms and the halls.
Alex Kormann | Star Tribune via AP 2020

Minnesota students, families and teachers say that learning over the last year has carried on, despite drastic COVID-19-related changes in education, according to a survey of sixth through 12th grade students released Wednesday by University of Minnesota researchers. 

“They believe students are learning or that they did learn,” said University of Minnesota principal in residence Katie Pekel. 

Middle and high school students who responded to the survey tended to think more learning occurred than their families did. And families polled said their early childhood and elementary students were learning more than secondary students. 

But all respondents agreed that the rate of learning was diminished from what had been happening before the pandemic. 

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There was also consensus from respondents about the mental health challenges of the last year. 

“Definitely more support, that’s needed for mental health,” Pekel said. “This was the case across all respondent groups.” 

Students said they needed help with both academics and mental health. Teachers requested help for both student mental health and their own mental well-being. 

For Pekel, the survey results show the importance of investing in social-emotional support and mental health resources as schools plan ahead for summer and next year. 

“If we didn’t have COVID, would kids maybe have learned more fractions? Very well could be. But we’re not going to get to those things and we’re not going to catch kids up in two months,” she said. “And if we don’t tend to their social-emotional needs, mental health through relationships, we’re only going to be putting ourselves further behind.”