Kindergarten teachers must ‘focus on giving the basic skills’ as pandemic delayed students return to class

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HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Some children that normally would have been getting structured learning ahead of kindergarten did not get to experience that last year due to safety concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University said in a paper that in fall 2020, “preschool participation had fallen from 71% to 54%”.

Meaning nearly 20% of children across the nation that normally would have been getting structured learning ahead of kindergarten didn’t get to experience that last year.

As a result, students who were held out of Pre-K last year will start the school year behind where students their age normally would be.

“A lot of them did miss out on that one-to-one, our small group that we have and things that are set up around the classroom that makes things more effective,” said Leticia Calderon, a Kindergarten teacher in Donna ISD.

There was hope that the 2021-22 school year would be a return to normal learning for students, but a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the last six weeks has cast a shadow on the new school year.

Kindergarten teachers across the Rio Grande Valley are preparing for a new school year that will once again look different from a normal year in more ways than one.

“I have to keep in mind that I have to start reviewing the basic, basic skills. I’m talking about even holding the pencil,” said Tania Carreon, a Kindergarten teacher with Brownsville ISD.

The 20% decline in Pre-K enrollment last year caused some people to speculate that Kindergartens could be facing large classes of students without any experience with in-person learning.

Teachers were prepping for the challenges that large classes could bring, made even more difficult by pandemic mandated social distancing requirements, but that has changed in the last few weeks as COVID-19 fears returned.

A wave of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations rivaling the winter surge and a variant more dangerous for children means enrollments are not expanding as people anticipated.

“Right now, the last time I checked on my list, I had around, I believe, 16. But I can go all the way to 22,” said Carreon on the number of students she had in her class for the upcoming semester.

“I think it’s still the fear of COVID and some parents are being hesitant about if they want them to [attend in person] or not,” said Calderon.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is allowing parents to have their kids redo kindergarten if they think they need it. With the pandemic worsening, Calderon said parents are considering holding their kids out again.

“And because they don’t have that vaccine available to them, there’s still that hesitation ‘is it safe to send them, should I send them?’” she said.

TEA is also allowing parents to have children who were held out of Pre-K start at that level instead of Kindergarten this year.

For the students who are coming to an in-person learning environment for the first time, teachers have spent the last few weeks before the semester begins preparing for a different school year than many had originally hoped.

“Now we have to also focus on giving the basic skills that probably were lacking from last year, and then keep them safe and every other priority we have,” said Carreon. “So, it’s going to be a challenge.”

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