Delaware schools are still struggling with the aftereffects of Covid-19 but are now armed with technology that had been years away prior to the pandemic.
That was the key message coming out of the second Pancakes & Progress breakfast event on the state of education in Delaware.
The panelists were:
- Dr. Vilicia Cade– superintendent Capital School District
- Dr. Cora Scott – Deputy secretary Delaware Department of Education
- James Spadola – Executive Director Read Aloud Delaware
- Jeff Taschner – Executive Director Delaware State Education Association
- Kerwin Gaines moderator – Host of DETV’s “The Agenda”
Cade said Covid-19 is having “lasting effects” in the Dover area’s Capital District, Dover area, with issues ranging from lost learning to a “state of trauma” that came from periods of isolation.
Spadola, whose organization champions reading and who also serves as a member of the Wilmington City Council, said the pre-existing challenges made worse by the pandemic are more serious in Wilmington than in more affluent suburbs.
Along with the lost learning, problems included young people who might have otherwise been focusing on school, ending up in the juvenile criminal justice system, Spadola said.
Gaines of DETV and panelists agreed that online access remains a major issue that came to light during the early stages of the pandemic.
Thanks to federal and state funding, work is underway on ridding the state of remaining “online deserts,” with the first steps involving the expansion of the broadband systems of existing cable TV companies in the state.
Taschner of the DEA said the pandemic led to the long-delayed goal of advancing educational technology into the 21st century but warned against wasting the opportunities by a return to normal.
Panelists also agreed that parents need to take a lead role in dealing with issues coming out of technology, including cyberbullying and monitoring what children access online.
Cade said there is a need “relearn how to be parents” in the digital age. That involves continuing to talk with children about their lives and education and, perhaps more importantly, listening to what they have to say.
Deputy State Education Secretary Scott noted that a critical period is ninth grade, with high school freshmen having the highest academic failure rate.
Panelists also touched on the area of workforce development, the topic of the first Pancakes & Progress conversation.
All agreed that conversations and exposure to careers should start in elementary school.
Cade said the Capital District is working to partner with Kent County employers on career pathways and other programs. Another resource is Junior Achievement programs.
Emphasizing entrepreneurship and recognizing that college is not the only pathway to a successful life and career were also mentioned by panelists.
Taschner warned about immediate challenges, including school librarians who have become an endangered species, and the need to convert those positions to media and online specialists.
Schools also face serious staff shortages that range from bus drivers to overcrowded classrooms due to a shortage of teachers.
Taschner said Delaware has always struggled with the issue of teacher pay but said the issue could become critical as neighboring Maryland revises its compensation structure.