After a year of interrupted learning and adapting to virtual classes, families and educators are intensely worried about how to make up for lost instruction. The scope is staggering. Millions of students, many at critical junctures in their development, have lost meaningful in-person connections to their peers, teachers and schools. The effects are deeply inequitable and are impacting students’ postsecondary prospects. Sadly, freshman enrollment in college is down 13 percent overall and nearly 30 percent for students of color in public two-year colleges.

With new leadership, it’s heartening to see the federal government finally stepping up to address the steep challenges students and families are facing by investing billions of dollars in K-12 schools. This funding can be used to provide young people with meaningful educational experiences, including work- and project-based learning, and college and career exploration opportunities that are proven to help more students stay in school, graduate on time, and develop the knowledge and skills employers seek for the future.

Luckily, the public funding is highly flexible and provides schools with a unique opportunity to think creatively about how to recover the learning loss. This means more than added academic help. Students need learning opportunities that connect to the real world and tap into the resilience they’ve shown during the last year to engage their minds and passions. They need social and emotional support, because this past year has caused trauma that is real and still raw.

In a recent survey, the Linked Learning Alliance reached out to 1,300 high school juniors and seniors to ask how they were doing and what they wanted and needed most during the pandemic. They reported that one of the things they want most is someone to whom they can talk — peers, teachers, counselors, academic advisers and other trusted adults. Specifically, more than 7 in 10 students said that being a part of a supportive college and career pathway has kept them motivated and engaged through school closures. More than 60 percent of respondents highlighted virtual work-based learning experiences in particular, as something they value and prioritize. And 80 percent of seniors said they are still going to college as planned.

Read the full article about college and career readiness by Deborah Delisle and Anne Stanton at The 74.