BALTIMORE, MD. – The students had just split into small groups in Jaylin Ramsey’s fourth grade class, giving a boy the chance to tell him why he wasn’t mind reading. His mother had COVID, which scared him because another family member died from the virus. He blamed himself, thinking he might have given it to his mother.
“I’m sorry you had to go through this at your young age,” Ramsey said. “It’s not your fault.”
She showed her mask, “We didn’t ask for that.
As one child expresses his feelings, another boy’s thoughts are blocked. He suddenly stops and gives Ramsey just a signal. He lifts one finger if he needs a glass of water and two fingers if he wants to speak. “I want him to share, but he doesn’t know how. He will look at me with wide eyes or with a slight nod of his head, as if he wants to share. But nothing comes out, ”she said.
Ramsey’s job as a fourth grade teacher at Glenmount Elementary / Middle School this fall has often been to unravel the emotional mysteries of a pandemic that has separated children and ravaged families with disease and hardship.
Eight weeks into the school year in the Glenham-Belhar neighborhood of northeast Baltimore, teachers at the school are relieved to be back. But they must do more than fill the academic gaps that have widened during the pandemic and that will hold their students back. Like teachers across the state and nation, they are grappling with the remnants of an unprecedented disruption in education that left students with behaviors that teachers and administrators continue to struggle to help. students.
Glenmount is one of the best performing elementary schools in the city. Its manager, Benjamin Mosley, now in his eighth year, operates what he describes as a well-oiled machine. In the quintessential 19th-century stone schoolhouse with a white wooden dome, black and brown children scream with joy as they run around a huge field and invade a colorful playground.
Hallways are tidy, students generally behave well, and classrooms can be quiet or busy. But some students are showing signs of stress related to the home-to-day transition in a class of 25 peers. Some of their students, teachers say, have trouble with routines, appear socially immature, and are somewhat awkward with each other as they try to relearn skills they gave up two years ago.
Used to getting up and walking away from their computer screens at home, they always think they can just get out of class or for a walk whenever they want. And a few parents have made DoorDash and Uber Eats, popular delivery services that attracted new users during the pandemic, drop lunch for their children. Mosley put a stop to it, realizing that a kid eating a McDonald’s burger and fries at the table with those having lunch at school wasn’t going to work.
Mosley said the vast majority of students are back to learning like they were two years ago, even though they are still trying to catch up in school. However, a small percentage are struggling in ways they wouldn’t have had before the pandemic. While that might only represent two or three students in each class, he said, if you multiply that by the 40 classrooms in the school, the numbers are significant.
Keyana Gardner’s warm and quick teaching style keeps nearly all of her first graders focused and engaged, but a few are unable to keep up with her.
Gardner organizes a lively back-and-forth with his students. She says three words and the class must respond with the two rhyming words. “Pop, hip, hop,” she said. “Pop, hop! The class yells back.
A little girl in a pink dress walks around the classroom. She gets a handkerchief and continues to examine the colorful displays on the walls, seemingly disconnected from learning, until she joins the class.
A boy in front of the class is irrepressible. He stands next to Gardner and throws out the answers to each question she writes on the whiteboard in front of the class. He was only 4 years old when the pandemic hit. At the start of the year, he and others had to learn to stand in line, follow the rules of the classroom, write with a pencil – skills that should have been ingrained in the first year.
Mosley can see the gaps in these academic and emotional skills in his younger students. Math diagnostic tests show her college kids miraculously didn’t lose that much ground.
In some cases, students seem to have made more progress with online learning.
“My little ones are still struggling to re-acclimatize, more than I can afford. The students who have been with us for some time quickly got used to the classroom, ”he said.
Seventh grade Jayla Boulware loved to learn at home.
“I loved virtual learning. It helped me focus more, ”said the 12-year-old.
His social interactions have diminished. Although she played with friends at a nearby park when schools closed, she said she gradually lost touch with some of them. She and most of her friends didn’t have phones.
“I think COVID has really changed people,” Jayla said, describing them as more confident, daring and more outgoing.
She remains an excellent student, she said, and looks forward to attending high school with entry requirements.
13-year-old Marquice Wills transferred to Glenmount this year and is happy to go back to school and meet new people.
“You don’t want to always be alone, because then you will be miserable,” he said. But he, too, said the students had been changed by the pandemic. They are more independent and need their friends less, he said.
Seventh-grade math teacher Beatryce Johnson tries to help students get back to school work.
“They had so much freedom and know that we put them in a structured environment,” she said. “It’s back to business. “
Johnson said she could see her students become frustrated faster than they did two years ago when they encountered a barrier in learning.
“Right now I’m teaching grade seven skills to students who don’t have a complete mastery of grade five skills,” she said.
Beyond the school gaps, she thinks that the lack of socialization has affected their maturity. They are less patient with each other and more likely to take offense. One of his students started to sting another student he did not know. Within seconds, they were aggressive and yelling at each other, she said. “They haven’t been around people outside their homes for so long,” she said.
Mosley said he expected to see students with more emotional issues after the pandemic.
“What I didn’t foresee was the assault,” he said. “We are still getting to the depth of our students. We are running against time. “
Students face many issues that they haven’t had to deal with before. More children in Glenmount have lost a parent, become homeless or are now in foster care.
Glenmount teachers and administrators say they have responded by giving students more grace, more patience and more empathy. They instituted greater use of restorative practices, a daily recording that allows students to express their emotions. Mosley will let a homeless student who lives in a shelter wander down a hallway for 10 minutes with his hoodie on, knowing that these might be the only 10 minutes of peace he will have that day.
Gardner lets his first year student walk around the classroom, if necessary. She doesn’t distract others. When a boy breaks down in tears, he can sit in the bean bag chair for a few minutes to calm himself down. Ramsey and a social worker will speak to the boy struggling with a family illness, as well as others who are struggling. Ramsey is confident that in time, she will be able to give the boy who seems to shut down a space safe enough to let go of his hidden sorrows.
“We are a work in progress,” said school social worker Kimberly Ford. “It’s going to take a little longer. “