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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Guest Opinion | Jennifer Hall Lee: The Four Walls of Learning

0-1-550x297COVID-19 has radically altered how we are living and it’s been ten months since PUSD schools were closed because of the pandemic. It’s certainly exasperating.

Recently, Pasadena Unified School District staff compared student data from the first semester of 2019 to the first semester of 2020. There has been an approximate 10% increase in D’s and F’s and the bulk of them are in grades 6-12. What lies in between those months? Remote learning.

Last week, the PUSD Governing Board held a special meeting to hear a presentation from Assistant Superintendent Dr. Julianne Reynoso entitled, “Opportunities for Improving Student Grades.” Principals from both middle and high schools were also in the meeting.

This proposal, if voted on by the Board on January 28, will do two things: incentivize students to make better grades and mitigate the low grades.

This is the plan: Students who made D’s or F’s in Fall of 2020 will have the opportunity to work with their teachers to raise those grades to a C if the student makes a high grade in this current semester (Spring 2021). For instance, if the student makes an A in Spring, but has a D or an F from Fall of 2020, then the student can, working with the teacher, raise that previous D or F to a C.

PUSD policy and regulations are not in conflict with this proposal.

The pandemic has affected all of us socially and economically. We have mental health needs and we miss our friends and family. Loss of employment has led to rent moratoriums and we have received stimulus checks. These have been trying times.

Dr. Reynoso informed us as to some of the reasons for the D’s and F’s including remote technology issues from the fall semester – issues that are now solved. But the pandemic also affects us as people. According to Dr. Reynoso, we have students who are “caring for younger siblings” at home which makes it difficult for them to get to online classes. Other children have stressful housing situations. All in all, “children have become overwhelmed.”

PUSD principals are monitoring their students closely; they are all conducting safe home visits weekly and working closely with staff to come up with solutions to help struggling students.

Principal of John Muir High School, Dr. Lawton Gray III, noted that remote learning is new for children and said, “not all students are intrinsic online learners.” He added that “parents are appreciative” of the home visits.

Dr. Shannon Malone, Principal at Washington STEAM Multilingual Academy, a middle school, said they have been creative in helping students. She said that a student can now earn a credit from a higher grade and apply it to a lower grade. Students have been “turning in more work with more effort.”

John Marshall’s Principal, Dr. Mark Anderson, told us that in addition to hosting weekly parent meetings to monitor student progress they conducted a student survey and asked for input. “It has been positive communication both ways.”

Principal David Ibarra of Blair High School shared that newly created Personalized Support Plans have allowed them to “dig a little deeper into the needs” of their students and families and make stronger connections.

At Rose City High School, Principal Brian Stanley opened an in-person small cohort for children that is conducted with required physical distancing rules. He said that “it meant a lot to [students] to be able to come to campus to have a quiet and safe place” to learn.

During the 1918 influenza pandemic in the state of Washington, The Seattle Star reported that the State Department of Education mandated that “grade eight pupils” did not have to take their usual tests but would still be able to be promoted “on the recommendation of their respective teachers.”

Much is lost when schools are closed to in-person learning. Dr. Gray held up his hands to denote the room he was sitting in at that moment inside John Muir High School. “These four walls mean so much to students. And the people who work inside these walls.”

These four walls. A classroom where the relationship between student and teacher is forged face to face.

Principal Lori Touloumian of Eliot Arts Magnet said, when sharing with the Board her conversations with teachers as they try to find ways to help students who are academically slipping away from us in this dire time in our world, “Give Grace. Give these students some grace.”

The proposal about the PUSD plan to incentivize students and mitigate their early D’s and F’s will be voted on by the PUSD Board on January 28 at its monthly meeting.

Jennifer Hall Lee is a member of the Pasadena Unified School Board and she lives in Altadena.

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