Local News

Southwestern assessing testing data to learn how pandemic affected student body

The COVID-19 pandemic hit Indiana school systems square in the face in March of 2020.


Virtual learning became the norm for the next two months as infection cases and deaths rose at alarming rates.


Sixteen months later, the school systems in Shelby County are preparing for the 2021-2022 school year by assessing how their respective students’ learning was affected by the pandemic.


“Until we get the principals in here in July and break down the data from last spring and plan going forward, I don’t think we will have a true grasp where we are at,” said Southwestern Consolidated Schools superintendent Curt Chase last week. “Everyone knows there is learning loss. We are trying to figure out where that is and how we can fix that moving forward.”


August 3 is the first official day for students at Southwestern in 2021. Chase released a letter to parents on July 1 outlining the most updated return-to-school policy.


In conjunction with guidance from the Indiana Department of Health, masks or face covering for staff and students will not be required in the building. Staff and students may still choose to wear a mask.


There is a current federal mandate for students riding a bus to wear face coverings, though. All schools must follow that mandate until it expires.


Southwestern High School's newest amenity, a fieldhouse, will be in full use during the 2020-2021 school year, alleviating pressure on all its sports teams that previously had access to limited gymnasium space.


Southwestern was able to keep students in the classroom the entire 2020-2021 school year with the exception of those diagnosed with COVID-19 and those considered risks identified by contact tracing.


“We were very impressed with the relationships with the parents,” said Chase. “Everybody worked with contact tracing. Obviously, it’s very tough. Our community did pretty well with that.


“Right now, the big thing is looking at (standardized) test results and seeing where everybody is at … seeing what our deficiencies are and what we are doing. Then work with our teachers moving forward.”


Virtual learning was not easy to implement for a two-month period. It did, however, introduce many school systems to a different educational track.


“I think we all kind of got hit in the face,” said Chase. “It was almost like you were throwing stuff at the walls to see how it works. At that point, we knew this was going to extend into the 2020-2021 school year. And for a few it worked. But I don’t think for the community we are in, I don’t think it was what was best for the kids. The majority of our community wants their kids in the building.”


The Southwestern school system was familiar with e-Learning when the pandemic kicked in. That certainly helped with the transition.


“It was definitely helpful that we had already done it,” said Chase. “To do it in that large of a span, nobody was ready for that. And I don’t think we were equipped to only operate that way.


“There was a lot of great collaboration (amongst principals) of what’s working. I think for an extended period of time, e-Learning, we found, was not the best way to educate kids.”


One advantage Southwestern had in returning in August of 2020 was its student population size.


“When you are small and you pretty much know everybody, you kind of know where everybody goes,” explained Chase. “If you are in a bigger corporation, you have a lot of people that do different things that you don’t know about. I think smaller communities do have the advantage of kind of knowing everybody and knowing what’s going on.”


Class sizes also were limited enough that social distancing and classroom spacing were much easier.


Virtual learning is growing in popularity, though. Chase admits for the right kind of student, it can be a viable educational track.


“You have to have time management skills and you have to be self-driven,” he said. “There are a few people that thrive in that and it’s great it can be met.”


As the schools return back to a more normal track, Chase believes education will be filled with many great stories of how administrations and teachers made the most of a taxing situation.


“I think a lot of people did a lot of great things during the pandemic that we will look back on, if not now then soon, and appreciate the effort that was put in – both students and teachers,” he said.