How Students and Adults Experienced COVID-19 Disruptions

Alieyyah Lewis is an intern with Bellwether’s Policy & Evaluation team.

Like many current students, I experienced disruption due to COVID-19. I’m a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, where I study Public Policy & Management. I was enjoying my spring break in March when my program informed us four days before classes were scheduled to resume that they would be switching to an entirely virtual model for the remainder of spring semester.

This was stressful and shocking. I was concerned with how my professors would switch to a virtual format, how assessments would be administered, whether my professors would provide my accommodations with fidelity, and whether professors would still hold office hours.

But unlike many students across the country, I did not have to worry about lacking access to technology to complete my coursework. I am fortunate to have reliable Wi-Fi at home, and even if I didn’t, my school’s academic buildings remained open for students to use Wi-Fi or printing services.

It is no surprise that students in K-12 schools experienced disruptions much more severe than mine, ranging from lack of adequate school supplies to homelessness. The findings of a recent national survey conducted by Bellwether, which I helped analyze, brought the challenges faced by adults who serve youth into sharper focus.

Our new brief looks at how leaders across systems of care — including schools, nonprofit organizations, social service agencies, juvenile justice systems, and foundations — supported special populations of students before and during COVID-19. Special populations of students include those within foster care, juvenile justice, or special education systems. The analysis sought to understand how time was spent on five priorities before and during COVID-19:

  1. Communication and coordination
  2. Education technology and school supplies
  3. Academic support
  4. Well-being
  5. Collaboration with other entities

The majority of survey respondents increased the amount of time spent on ensuring access to technology and school supplies. As seen in the figure below, nonprofit organizations increased their time spent ensuring access to technology and school supplies by 9.5 hours, even though respondents from the nonprofit sector reported that before COVID-19, zero percent of their time was devoted to technology. Nonprofit respondents also spent much fewer time connecting with youth and families, which may mean young people may have been without wraparound support. 

Leaders across all sectors shared that they are most concerned about budget cuts and helping students navigate virtual learning:

Navigating COVID-19 is a continuous learning process. As many schools across the United States return for the 2020-2021 academic year, I encourage leaders across systems of care to dig into the rest of our findings and take a look at the new school reopening workbook created by my colleagues.