There’s a heartbreaking moment in this NY Times story about kids who have disappeared from school during the pandemic. The story focuses on one 11-year-old kid named Jordyn who is in school half the time, meaning the other half of the time he’s doing remoted learning on his mother’s cell phone. Jordyn’s mom works nights as a casino security guard and sometimes doesn’t even get home in the morning until Jordyn is already late for school.
By the time Jordyn signed in, he had already missed two periods of class. And he would miss more. By the sixth period, he had fallen asleep, cheek smushed into his palm. His mother, who tries as hard as she can to stay awake so that she can supervise him, was also sound asleep in the next room.
And so neither of them heard Jordyn’s math teacher announce an upcoming test, one that was particularly critical for Jordyn, who was failing the class. “If you don’t make at least a C,” the teacher said, in a tone both playful and serious, “we’re going to fight.”
But that’s not the heartbreaking part.
Author Rukmini Callimachi points out that Jordyn is just one of millions of US kids who have struggled during the pandemic. In fact, he’s better off than many milliions of kids who have completely disappeared from school.
By one estimate, three million students nationwide, roughly the school-age population of Florida, stopped going to classes, virtual or in person, after the pandemic began…
“We do have students who have kind of disappeared,” said Barbara E. Cage, the principal of Oakhurst Intermediate Academy, the school Jordyn attends in Clarksdale, Miss. The district says the number of students with five or more absences since the fall has increased 20 percent over the previous year. “We’re not able to reach them.”
Jordyn himself is barely hanging on. He’s failing math and some other classes and his mom has been told he may need to repeat 5th grade because of his absences. Jordyn told the Times, “I used to like school. Now I don’t even like it anymore because it’s too hard.” And as awful as all of that is, it’s still not the heartbreaking part.
For me, this was the heartbreaking part.
On the day of a nationwide standardized test, [his 2nd grade teacher] said, Jordyn sat in front of his computer, humming to himself and spinning around in his chair. She thought he was goofing off — until the results came in.
When his mother came to pick him up, a school administrator was waiting for her, and she worried Jordyn had gotten into trouble. “That’s when they told me that he had gotten not just the best score in his class but the best score in the entire grade,” she said.
His 4th grade teach also says he would struggle to pay attention in class but then hours later he would stop by and ask a question that showed he’d been thinking about what she had said all day.
That’s what really gets me about this. Jordyn is bright. He has potential. Unfortunately Jordyn’s potential and his early love of learning are being squandered right now because of remote learning that just doesn’t work for him in his situation.
A lot of smart kids are able to adjust because they have laptops and broadband access and their parents are around to keep them on top of it. But Jordyn’s mom makes $18 an hour. She saved money for a small apartment but they have no stove, no refrigerator and no car. She rides the bus more than an hour each way to and from work. So, under the circumstances, broadband internet access and a laptop for Jordyn to do school on just aren’t possibilities right now.
Of course if school were in session that might not matter but it hasn’t been. And this is the kind of thing that drives me nuts when I see some union president whining about returning to classrooms while there are literally millions of kids out there whose lives might be changed permanently for the worse because of this. It really is an outrage. Union members who are slow-walking a return to classrooms should be ashamed of themselves.
The school has offered to let Jordyn attend 4-days a week. His mother is worried about him taking the bus alone in the morning but is considering using her tax rebate to pay for Uber rides a couple times a week. But even if that works out, Jordyn is still way behind at this point. He has to ace everything else this year to avoid repeating 5th grade. And if he is forced to repeat, even if that’s in person in a classroom next year, he might not feel the same about school as he once did. Coming back from all of this won’t be easy, not for him and not for millions of kids like him.