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Pandemics & Tests

Patrick Henry High School in San Diego, CA. Not only is it the site of a secondary educational institution, it’s also the location of a respiratory outbreak. (photo courtesy of KPBS)

This week, ACT scores were released for this past summer’s graduating class, revealing the effects the COVID pandemic has had on the recent educational experience for many students across the U.S. from the previous school year. The results aren’t good- scores have been at their lowest since the early 90s. Many attribute this dip to a less than tactile educational approach that the pandemic has forced upon many school districts across the U.S. in the last two years as a result of remote learning. One could write a whole article on the issue of remote learning alone, but the focus of today’s article is on the actual schooling experience itself.

In the same week, a respiratory ailment has caused more than a thousand students from two San Diego high schools to miss out on classes. The two schools, Patrick Henry(pictured above) as well as Del Norte High School had a combined student absence of more than 1,500. This is being attributed to an early case of this year’s flu season, which like the Coronavirus pandemic that has caused us to pause life as we knew it more than two years ago, now threatens this early school year’s progress of going back to school after many students opted to continue learning from home.

These two stories highlights the complex dynamics between the pandemic and the high school experience for many. Across the U.S., very few high schools have actual students on their school boards- in contrast to places like Berkeley and Oakland school districts, also in California, which have included 16-year old youths to their board, and perhaps other school boards in the U.S., not too many other districts are able to advocate for the well-being of their fellow peers. At times, students have had to confront those who weren’t always supportive of the option to wear masks in the midst of the pandemic, as in this viral story from Florida earlier this year documents.

In regards to test scores themselves, the NPR reported that inequities prior to the pandemic have become even more apparent, as remote learning required many low-income students to deal with the need to acquire materials, such as a computer, internet service and other items to conduct remote learning. This doesn’t even mention the further unequal financial burden associated with the move, i.e. families needing to stay home from work to watch younger children previously sent to daycares, sign up for internet services as well as provide meals to their child who is learning remotely. Because of these challenges, some higher education institutions have adapted to the situation, dropping the requirement that traditional college entrance exam scores not be taken into consideration on applications.

Unfortunately, high schools have not or may not be as accommodating. The lack of students on school boards likely plays a role in this, as resources to help students during the pandemic might not always be allocated to less privileged students to continue their learning.

With regards to the pandemic itself, or even the new outbreak of flu in school like the ones being seen in the two San Diego high schools, students have often clashed with their schools in favor of keeping mask mandates, such as this story last year from a student who spoke at his local school board. It is safe to assume that at his school, the school board has not integrated youths to weigh in on the issues affecting them at their center of learning. This narrative likely plays out in many other places, often times where youth are trying to do what’s best for them and even those around them.

Of course, the larger argument is autonomy itself, about getting the vote for the youth who actually attend their schools. This may not have applied to the outbreaks in San Diego, but it could have. Students could shape how the district responds to this or other similar cases if this starts happening nationwide. It’s hard to say whether doing this would improve student test scores looking at the whole picture, but if students feel the need to continue mask mandates at their school, it would guarantee students actually showed up to their classes rather than missing them, and possibly increasing their scores on entrance exams.

The main point is students should have the vote- we have the legislation to make it happen, and we just need to get it passed so youth lives are improved with regards to all things pertaining their educational experience.

-Jester Jersey


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