As foundations with K-12 education strategies modify their approaches to support COVID-19 recovery efforts, funders would be wise to gather expert advice. And, frankly, there exists no better expert on what works and does not work in education than a student.

So, what do students have to say about their learning and well-being under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic? And, more importantly, what recommendations do students have for adults regarding which impact areas to prioritize in the new academic year?

These are the central questions that our team at YouthTruth sought to answer through our third and final report on U.S. students’ experiences throughout the pandemic: Students Weigh In – Part III: Learning & Well-Being During COVID-19In order to offer timely insights from student experts, we analyzed survey data collected January through May 2021 from more than 200,000 3rd to 12th grade students from over 500 schools across 19 states.

Here’s what we learned:

  1. While students’ perceptions of learning returned to pre-pandemic levels during spring 2021, there remains cause for concern about students’ social and emotional well-being. Students offered insights on how technology can help or hinder learning.
  2. The overall number of obstacles to students learning is down. However, inequitable experiences and compounding barriers persist, especially for Black and Latinx learners.
  3. Students felt more respect from adults during the pandemic as well as increased academic support from teachers. However, respect and teacher support are experienced unevenly across student groups.
  4. Fewer students plan to go to college. Students offered ideas for making access to higher education more equitable.

Surely, no two students have experienced the pandemic the exact same way, and yet the report finds trends across racial and gender identity lines that illustrate the ever-present inequities that have plagued school systems since long before SARS-CoV-2 hit playgrounds.

Students’ written comments offer ideas about how adults can better work in partnership with students to address these systemic shortcomings. For example, analysis of open-ended sentiments from Black or African American high school students uncovered three recommendations about what their schools could do to improve learning and well-being conditions: provide inclusive curricula, adopt anti-racist policies, and treat students fairly.

Read the full article about trusting student voices by Sonya Heisters at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.