It’s been a year and a half since the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered American schools. It was an unprecedented experiment in widespread virtual education, combined with a massive global crisis that left students and families reeling. As schools prepare to reopen in fall 2021, we are only just beginning to reckon with what this means for students.

Here’s what we know so far: While educators across the country did phenomenal work shifting to a virtual learning environment, students have struggled overall. Research has found that students studying in-person reported greater academic, social, and emotional well-being than their peers who were learning virtually. Not only have students missed out on valuable learning time, but they have also been isolated from the joyous aspects of being on campus: Spending time with friends and participating in enriching activities.

Of course, the brunt of all this has fallen on low-income families of color. America’s schools were already deeply inequitable when the pandemic hit, and students with limited educational resources suddenly had even fewer. Reliable internet access is also a problem; many families can’t afford broadband internet subscriptions, and local internet infrastructure is often limited or poorly maintained. And of course, families were grappling with all the other disproportionate impacts of the pandemic, from higher rates of COVID-19 illness and death to losses of housing, income, and childcare.

The past eighteen months will have lifelong repercussions for students and their families. We will need to attend not just to students’ academic needs, but also their social and emotional ones. We have to be willing to invest in the right efforts, generously and fast.

Here in Los Angeles, Great Public Schools Now and our partner organizations have been working hard to make that happen. We launched One Family LA, which provided basic financial assistance to families economically impacted at the onset of the pandemic. We released our Education Recovery Now Report to capture the academic implications of distance learning and to offer a roadmap for building a more equitable school system. And most recently, we launched the LA Education Recovery Fund to provide targeted funding to programs directly supporting students most impacted by the pandemic. We started by supporting free in-person enrichment programs this summer so students can learn, re-socialize and most importantly, have fun after a difficult year. There is so much work ahead. It will be a multi-year effort to ensure our students fully recover and thrive post-pandemic.

Efforts like these are underway across the country. Here are three ways to join in:

  • Donate to local recovery funds. In addition to supporting the LA Education Recovery Fund, there are many similar nonprofit initiatives across the country.
  • Sign up to volunteer. You can offer your time and experience as well as funds! Organizations are looking for tutors, mentors, and other roles to support students in K-12 and beyond.
  • Advocate to school officials and policymakers. The Biden Administration has authorized billions of dollars in education stimulus funds. Urge your local school boards and others to invest that money wisely, in proven approaches that will help students and schools recover.