Education experts say in-person instruction will quicken academic recovery for those who fell behind after two interrupted school years. 

In Jackson public schools, like in many other districts, school officials struggled to create a remote learning program for students last spring as the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated closures. The capital city’s 22,500 public-school students were already behind their peers academically.

During the virtual learning period it was also difficult as many students did not have internet access for school work nor did they have parents available to help. Many teachers also could not get online at home when schools closed.

Education is an important part of the infrastructure of communities. Schools provide safe and supportive learning environments for students and jobs for teachers and other staff.

“Needless to say, I mean, there’s no adjectives to describe what this past year has been like. It has been a learning experience for all of us and it has been very hard for our students and teachers to try to immediately pivot to being remote,” said Dr. Carey Wright, Mississippi Superintendent of Education.

Dr. Carey Wright, MS State Superintendent

Many students, staff, and caregivers have either missed or had interruptions in services due to school building closures and use of virtual and hybrid learning. Dr. Wright recently discussed how the Department of Education purchased roughly 400,000 laptops for students and teachers across the state in order to help with virtual learning.

“Districts did all that they could with providing paper packets,” Wright said. “But it’s really hard when you’re not connected. Now with Mississippi Connects Initiative, we purchased devices so that they could have information loaded onto them so that whether students were at home or at school, they had access to content that they needed.”

Despite the challenges that the last two school years have faced, Mississippi held its education ranking of 39th in the country in 2021 according to new data released in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual KIDS COUNT® 2021 Data Book.

Wright stated that Mississippi students, teachers and schools achieved historic academic gains before the pandemic and have not let up on their pursuit of higher academic achievement.

“Education in Mississippi continues to be a bright spot among the indicators of child well-being” said Wright.

Lawmakers have also put a focus on education, particularly with the teacher pay raise bill passed in the 2021 legislative session. They also passed bills that would expand broadband access throughout the state, for virtual situations just like the pandemic.

Sen. Dennis DeBar

“Coming out of the pandemic, it is abundantly clear how important classroom learning and our teachers are to achievement in our state. Though we must continue to leverage technology to our best advantage, getting our students back in school buildings when the 2021 school year begins is imperative,” said State Senator Dennis DeBar.

Ahead of the upcoming 2022 legislative session, legislators are preparing to introduce and support even more education bills.

“The Senate Education Committee will debrief the impact of COVID, particularly on achievement, when the Session begins in January. We will also continue to look at accountability, teacher compensation, early learning, and workforce training” stated Senator DeBar.

The CDC has developed guidance for prevention strategies that K–12 school administrators and Child Care Programs can use to help protect students, teachers, and staff, and slow the spread of COVID-19. They have also have created a list of ways that schools can support vaccinations against the pandemic.