As school year ends, students still dealing with impact of COVID-19 pandemic

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Thousands of New Mexico K-12 students are still dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as another school year ends. 

Many parents say it’s been a particularly rough school year, from behavior issues, to children still struggling to catch up academically. 

“My kids, they’ve had some struggles adapting to online learning and it kind of put them back a little bit,” said Josh Melendez, a Rio Rancho parent. “I feel like he’s a little behind because of the COVID pandemic situation.” 

“Definitely some behavior stuff, but overall good, and I think everyone is happy to be back,” Albuquerque parent Kelly Zangara said. 

“This was kind of the first return to normal,” said Whitney Holland, president of the New Mexico branch of the American Federation of Teachers. Holland regularly speaks with educators across the state. 

New Mexico school districts had none, or very few, disruptions because of COVID-19 this year, and while in-person learning has many benefits, a change like that can be difficult for children. 

“We’re seeing behaviors in response to that. We’re seeing them on buses, in, before, and after school settings. We’re seeing them across the board,” Holland said. 

Holland said teachers are seeing more bad behavior than before the pandemic, from fights to bullying, and difficulties navigating relationships and handling conflict. 

“Those social skills – the friendships, the sharing, all of those pieces. School is not just what happens academically, it’s also all of those pieces too. How to use scissors, how to go through the lunch line with your tray,” Holland said. 

For example, second-graders spent their first two years of school not seeing their classmates. 

“This year was especially hard because of that burden, feeling that pressure of getting kids caught up, whether that’s socially or academically,” Holland said.

Students have fallen behind anywhere from six months to two years academically because of the pandemic, according to an expert estimate in New Mexico at the beginning of last school year. 

But now, there may be positive momentum. 

“We’ve got kind of a clear map of where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. It’s just continuing that progress,” Holland said. 

She said many now believe that the learning gap may not be as wide as many feared. 

“I leave those conversations feeling so optimistic about what the future of education in New Mexico looks like,” Holland said. “I’m really excited. I wouldn’t just say that.” 

Holland also praised the extended school year bill state lawmakers passed earlier this year.