KDKA survey looks at the social, emotional and academic impact of remote learning

This social experiment of entire school districts doing school remotely was born out of necessity, but the children and families are the ones dealing with the repercussions.

KDKA surveyed families across our region to see how they handled the many changes in this school year, and the results are revealing.

No one ever would have imagined all school children across the country would be doing school from their homes or somewhere other than the school building, but that’s what abruptly happened after March 13, 2020.

Then, starting last fall, schools took many different approaches — from fully remote, to hybrid, to fully in-person, and that had a big impact on kids academically, socially and emotionally.

Technology makes it possible for kids to do school from home, but that same technology also distracts them. That’s the case for many kids, including eighth-grader Larry Brown, who goes to Carmalt Pre-K-8 in Pittsburgh Public Schools.

“I would say it’s a little bit harder at home, usually more distractions. So you can get off-topic,” Larry said.

Pittsburgh Public Schools has been remote almost all school year, and the Browns decided to keep their routine rather than go hybrid for the last six weeks.

Mom, Samantha, has seen a decline in Larry’s grades and tries to help but also cares for her 8-year-old son Leland, who has Down syndrome.

“He hasn’t retained the alphabet or numbers or even writing his name, things that we have worked so hard at. It’s been difficult to watch,” Samantha said.

KDKA’s survey of families across the eight-county region found the experience with fully remote school was mixed. About one-third said their children struggled emotionally, but another one-third did better, and some want to continue with remote school after the pandemic.

Academically, almost half did better. But socially, almost half did worse.

Yet it’s families in the hybrid model who experienced the most challenges. Almost half of the families in hybrid school said their kids did worse socially, emotionally and academically compared to fully in-person school.

Gracie Wells struggled to motivate when doing school at home.

“Distractions like TV, phone, consoles, all that kind of stuff,” she said.

“We had some arguments and some fights. Then mom had to put her foot down and say, ‘No, you will go,’ ” Gracie’s mother, Rebecca, said.

Their new dog, Snickerdoodle, helped the whole family emotionally, and Gracie’s doing better since the school moved to fully in-person learning.

Both moms say they feel their school districts did the best they could under the circumstances.

”Seneca has done an amazing job in trying to keep all the balls in the air and keep all of the parents happy – those parents who have been very scared and those parents who have wanted their kids in school as much as possible,” Rebecca said.

The four Barker kids from Brookline have been following in-person learning all school year at Catholic schools.

“It was nice that they could go in. They could make friends. They could meet the teachers,” Jennifer Barker said.

Most parochial and private schools have been fully in-person since the fall, and many families say even with masking and social distancing, it wasn’t that different from a normal school year.

Alex Barker, a freshman, was able to play football at Seton LaSalle Catholic High School, and middle-schooler Samantha played basketball, volleyball and track at St. Gabe’s School.

In fact, 34% of the people in our survey said sports was key to coping throughout the pandemic, second only to family support, which 78% said was critical.

All families struggled, some more than others, but everyone is hoping next year will look a lot more like a regular school year.

“It’s just been really hard. I’m just ready to go back to normal,” Samantha said.

Many families say their children learned resilience and that they grew closer as a family through the whole pandemic.