LOS ANGELES — Among the many hit hard by COVID-19, elementary and high school students are still recovering.

While schools had modest means to teach remotely, the pandemic forced mobilization of lessons via Zoom never before used on such a scale.

What You Need To Know

  • Elementary and high school students are still recovering from the pandemic

  • COVID-19 has forced mobilization of lessons via Zoom never before used on such a scale

  • The pandemic necessitated new conversations about how students learn

  • Even as spikes in cases appeared, California schools have persevered, relying on masks and encouraging vaccines

Testing teachers' ingenuity, parents' planning abilities and children’s attention spans, the pandemic necessitated new conversations about how students learn. 

College students at schools such as Chapman University also contended with a return to campus as schools became increasingly determined to prevent a return to online learning. Even as spikes in coronavirus cases appeared, California schools have persevered, instead relying on masks and encouraging vaccines.

Here are some big moments in education from 2021.

Schools try to recoup learning losses

While students were held out of school, educators say learning losses mounted. Stories around the country of children conscripted into child care duties for younger siblings reached headlines, along with other challenges inevitable in online learning. Parents of low and middle income, according to the Pew Research Center, were more likely to report that online learning was “difficult” or “somewhat difficult.”

A return to online learning remained a consistent talking point during the recall efforts against Gov. Gavin Newsom, who repeatedly indicated he didn’t believe a return to online learning was feasible. 

And even as students have remained in school, regularly occurring new variants of coronavirus have put school administrators in a difficult position. As other states return to online learning, schools in California have managed to keep students in class and have remained intent on doing so. Federal money has flowed in, allowing further improvements to safety like cough shields between desks and better ventilation.

But the key to school attendance, officials say, has always been vaccines for students, keeping a greater percentage in school and further protecting teachers. Over recent months, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have steadily made younger children eligible for vaccines.

While vaccines and learning losses are keys to describing education in 2021, educators say they’ll be key talking points for years to come.

Teacher shortages

Labor shortages for school districts — everything from lunchroom workers to subject teachers — had begun before the pandemic only to accelerate as staff chose to leave their jobs early. The National Assn. of Education reported that 32% of respondents to its June survey left early because of the pandemic. 

Orange County schools haven’t been immune, struggling especially to find special education teachers. 

Mental health

While many students have suffered from learning losses, others have been beset by mental health problems inflicted by the pressures of the pandemic. The U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, visited Los Angeles to bring awareness to the mental health crisis.

Nonprofits like Tilly’s life Center have been working with schools for years to improve the state of mental health in schools. But the pandemic brought new light to fears of the mental pressures resting heavily on students as normal life and socialization were suspended.

Administrators say students, while back in school in Orange County, are still recovering from the pandemic requiring continued focus on the problem. The Tustin Unified School District has long had a special team to respond to mental health emergencies, and now officials at the federal level are talking openly about the problem.

While nonprofits and school districts have been aware of growth in mental health concerns among students, many feel the pandemic has dramatically increased the strain inflicted day-to-day.

Like the other problems on the list, money has been mobilized to help struggling students, even as plans to properly execute effective programs are still evolving.

And like the other concerns, mental health will be a major focus in 2022.