ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The back-to-school focus this year for New York districts is overcoming learning gaps due to the pandemic. That’s according to a recent analysis from the state School Boards Association

The analysis shows that 77% of school districts in New York plan on spending federal COVID recovery funding to help address the lasting effects of changes from the pandemic, specifically in learning gaps due to interrupted instruction. 

“For the younger kids, they didn’t have as much socialization, it was difficult with masks, and they struggled more with their reading skills. Young kids need a lot of repetition to build those foundational skills and because of Covid they just didn’t get it, and it just wasn’t the same as doing it on Zoom,” said Susan Steron, Director of Sylvan Learning, a local tutoring service.  

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She explains how students, even pre-pandemic, typically experience a ‘summer slide’ — anywhere between three to eight months of academic regression if they are not in regular practice with skills.

Teachers are also concerned and can be a partner for parents to help connect them to exactly what your child needs. 

“They’re trying to catch kids up and a lot of kids did do summer instruction. There were a lot of summer programs throughout our community and they want students to be able to return to school this year with confidence, but it’s definitely a worry here in Rochester, and nationally,” Steron explained.  

A majority of school districts in New York — 72% — plan to use federal and state funding to implement strategies to meet students’ emotional and mental health needs. 

Steron says mental health is, and should be, a priority for students but that can also go hand-in-hand with academic performance. 

“Unfortunately, it’s a little bit of the chicken-and-the-egg situation, too, though. Sometimes when students struggle in school then they tend to have a lower self-image, they struggle with self-esteem, they have anxiety so then that feeds into some of that negative self-talk that comes with mental health,” Steron said. 

Steron continued, emphasizing the best way to support students is through patience and positive engagement.

The 2022-23 school year is the second of three years in which school districts may spend their federal funding.