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‘Class of COVID-19’ reporting project explores the possibility of a new “lost generation”

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Orlando 7th grader Gabrielle (l) and her mother Bathsheba spoke with WMFE's Amy Green about the struggles with online learning. Photo: Amy Green / WMFE

This conversation is part of our statewide series “Class of COVID-19,” looking at how the pandemic has affected education for the most vulnerable students in Florida.

Experts think a whole generation of children could be affected by the problems thrown up by the pandemic–and those problems are worse for students already at risk.  

The special statewide reporting project, “Class of COVID-19: An Education Crisis for Florida’s Vulnerable Students,” examines the barriers to education amplified by the pandemic, including poverty, housing instability, hunger, internet access and fear of deportation. 

Joining Intersection are WLRN’s Jessica Bakeman, who edited the project, and WMFE’s Amy Green, who reported on kids falling behind with online learning. 

Bakeman says food and technology were a big concern when the pandemic first shut down schools, and still present problems now. 

“I think that’s part of why we wanted to do this project because it really highlights all of the different ways that many families in our state are struggling that you might not think has anything to do with education, like food or transportation or, you know, limited access to health care,” she says. “And yet all of those things are getting in the way of students succeeding in school.” 

Green says families of color and low income families face some of the greatest challenges of virtual learning. She says many experts worry that learning disparities that are already caused by systemic racism and inequality are only being worsened by the pandemic.

“It’s not enough,” Green says. “By doing these virtual programs, not enough for these children who face some unique and specific challenges at home, and potentially setting up these children for even more challenges into the future.”

Bakeman says the reason those families are vulnerable right now is because the Black and Latino communities have been hit harder by the pandemic.

“If you’re in a situation where you’ve lost a loved one to COVID-19, or you have maybe a grandmother who lives in your household, then you know, from a parent’s perspective, making that decision about sending your kids back to school is a lot different than if you’re someone who…has not really seen how destructive the pandemic has been,” she says. 

Bakeman says having one year of school affected by the pandemic is going to have a generational impact.

“I’m hearing the same thing from people looking at this issue from all different kinds,” she says. “We’re going to lose a generation of students to this.” 

For more on how the pandemic has affected education check out the Florida Public Media series, “Class of COVID-19: An Education Crisis For Florida’s Vulnerable Students.” Find the whole project — and sign up for our limited-run newsletter — at classofcovid.org.

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