Last week, Advance Illinois released a report, Education in a Pandemic: Learning from Illinois Students & Caregivers to Plan for the Road Ahead. The report encapsulates what Illinois’s school communities—including students, parents, and caregivers—are experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic and what they will require in the long term to recover and rebuild. A recording of the webinar covering the report and featuring a panel discussion with Illinois PTA Immediate Past President Brian Minsker and East St. Louis superintendent Dr. Arthur Culver is also available at the link above.

The report is based on conversations with over 120 students, parents, and caregivers from across Illinois. Included in those conversations were families from urban, suburban, and rural areas; families with students who have special needs, are English Language Learners, or are on the free or reduced lunch program; families of essential workers; and families who identify as white, black, Latinx, Asian, or other ethnicities. In short, these families represented the broad spectrum of families from across Illinois.

Three key themes emerged from the conversations about families’ experiences and expectations for the coming years:

  • Significant support is needed to address students’ social-emotional needs: All focus groups shared worries about the impact of isolation and trauma and called for increased school-based counseling and mental health supports.
  • Dedicated time and resources are needed to ensure strong academic progress in the coming years: Parents asserted the importance of knowing how their students were performing and progressing in relation to grade-level standards, while students worried about whether they will be academically prepared for what’s next.
  • Lack of resources will cause students to fall behind: Participants expressed concern that inequities in access to resources will cause some students to fall behind in their classes, damaging their chances of gaining the skills and knowledge necessary to continue on to college and career.

As a result of these conversations, Advance Illinois developed five recommendations for state legislators, school district leaders, and families to consider as we begin to approach the end of the pandemic.

  • Invest in Resource Equity: Investing both state and federal dollars equitably will be key to ensuring Illinois public schools have the resources and supports needed to address the increased academic and social-emotional needs of students in the wake of COVID-19.
  • Treat Academic and Social-Emotional Learning as Two Halves of the Whole Child: A state plan and distribution of resources to enable recovery from the current crisis must meaningfully address both subject-matter mastery and building trauma-responsive schools.
  • Create a Comprehensive Recovery and Rebuilding Approach that Takes the Long View: Because this crisis will require focus and decisive action over the next several school years, state leaders should work with diverse stakeholders to develop a bold and comprehensive long-term plan for educational recovery and building back better.
  • Prioritize Clarity and Consistency: State leaders and advocates must understand the impact of this pandemic on student learning and well-being in order to effectively support Illinois’ students and families in the process of recovery.
  • Make Up for Lost Time: As Illinois schools and communities renew and rebuild, students deserve additional time and supports to address this unparalleled social-emotional, mental health and academic crisis in a thoughtful, research-based manner.

Illinois PTA has partnered with Advance Illinois in advocating for school funding and support for our students and will continue to do so with respect to Illinois’s response to and recovery from the pandemic. Read the report, then contact your state legislators asking them to put the children of Illinois first when developing next year’s budget.