“I can tell you our students are resilient, our educators are resilient,” Connecticut State Department of Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker said.
“We rose to the challenge, so we know that we can,” Hartford Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez said.
Wednesday marked three years since the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Connecticut. In the following days, school closings began pouring in across the state.
“The pandemic has been extremely challenging for all of us as well as for our students, families and educators, as well,” CSDE Chief Performance Officer Ajit Gopalakrishnan said.
School officials had to work around the rapid-spreading virus, providing students with remote learning, meals on-the-go and telehealth services for children struggling with mental health.
“Kudos to our districts, to our educators, to our school leaders, and to our families and students. That recognized, we struggled; we were challenged but we want to get on the other side of things,” Russell-Tucker said.
While there are signs of progress in mental health, test scores and absences since the beginning of the pandemic, schools say there is still a long way to go.
With new practices and policies came unforeseen challenges, including an increase in chronic absenteeism.
In Hartford Public Schools, absences were at 46% last year. During the current school year 2022-23, absences are at 36%.
“Ten percent reduction. Great, great improvement yet a long way to go,” Torres-Rodriguez said.
“This most recent data from January is where we are starting to see a slight downward tick, especially the vulnerable population,” Gopalakrishnan said.
The CSDE is tackling the issue through a program known as LEAP, which is federally-funded and allows school personnel to conduct home visits.
The program was recently nationally recognized for its success.
“Those are really predicated on developing relationships between schools and families, so addressing the needs of families, whether that be housing insecurity, food insecurity,” CSDE Division Director of School Health Nutrition and Families Services John Frassinelli said.
There was also a learning loss across the state.
“In literacy and in numeracy and math, there has been a decline,” Torres-Rodriguez said.
Torres-Rodriguez said they are helping students through extended learning opportunities.
“So, at our Saturday academy, our February sessions, we see students that are participating are faring, improving,” Torres-Rodriguez said.
Many teachers felt overworked during the pandemic and left the field, creating hundreds of vacancies in Connecticut.
“We are hopeful that when the year is all set and done that our attendance this year will hopefully look better than last year, and even the year before,” Gopalakrishnan said.