School Committee debates solutions to pandemic learning loss

Oct 20, 2022

After hearing a report of increased absenteeism and poorer-than-average MCAS scores, the Wareham School Committee, along with all three Wareham school principals, debated possible remedies to pandemic learning loss at their meeting Thursday, Oct. 20. One of many startling statistics in the report, delivered by Assistant Superintendent Dr. Andrea Schwamb, was that almost three-fourths of Wareham students are designated as “high-needs.” High-needs students can be low-income, current or former English Language Learners (ELL) or students with disabilities. High-needs students were also more likely to be chronically absent, meaning that they missed 10 percent or more of the school year. Committee Vice Chair Geoffrey Swett sounded in disbelief as he discussed the statistic. 

Wareham Middle School Principal Tracie Cote described students suffering from hunger, homelessness and other problems in their home lives.

“We might have a student whose mother overdosed last night,” she said. “We might have a student whose father died last night. We teach the students who are in front of us… I’ve heard of teachers who take their kids home, because they need a home.”

Principal Scott Palladino blamed some of the absenteeism on parents not instilling discipline in their children from an early age. 

“In most cases, there’s disengagement on both ends,” he said. “Parents are putting up their hands [and saying] ‘I have no control over my kids at the age of 14, 16.’ That part isn’t unique to Wareham High School.”

Committee Member Apryl Rossi said that during the pandemic, some children were exposed to trauma at home that they were “shielded from” at school.

“[Before the pandemic] these kids had years of knowing that they had a safe place to go,” she said, “that they would have breakfast and lunch, not knowing if they would have dinner that night.” 

“Another area of hunger was love,” said Elementary School Principal Bethany Chandler. “We lost a lot of relationships that we are building back… That is a key factor of how we are going to improve these MCAS scores.” 

The Committee also debated the district’s hiring of social workers to help students with learning loss.

“Is there any reason to believe that, next fall, things will be back to ‘normal’ and we won’t need these resources?” Swett asked. “What we were adding was supposed to deal with learning loss. Did that work?” 

“I would say that at the elementary level they are making a huge impact against learning loss,” Schwamb said.

“In my opinion, it’s too early to tell,” said Superintendent Dr. Matthew D’Andrea. “Two years of learning loss is huge. It’s huge. And that’s gonna impact for years. We’re playing catch-up, so we’re gonna have to wait for a few years of investment in the education of these kids.”