At-risk students bear brunt of hybrid

Kris Long, Sports Editor

We hear a lot about how students can’t manage their time at home, miss the social interaction of school, lack a structured environment and are falling behind in hybrid. 

While all of this might be true, we hear much less about the students who were already struggling in school due to economic or home life situations. 

Hybrid learning adds a whole new set of challenges. From lack of access to technology to spending more time in a negative home environment, these students face problems most don’t have to think about.

The school district has provided every student with an iPad and those who need it with internet access via HotSpots. These steps have undoubtedly gone a long way to close the gap in technology access, but disparities still exist. The HotSpots have a limited amount of data on them before they’re refilled, and if students have to work on them at the same time as their siblings, connection speed slows. 

“If you have a student, and his brother and sister live with them as well and they’re all working together at the same time, you’re going to deplete that gigabyte or whatever they provided for you much quicker than just a single kid at home,” Special Education teacher Konnor Cook said. “You’re going to see a lot of crashes, and you’ll see a lot of kids give up after a certain amount of time. ‘It’s not worth it’ is a lot of times what you’ll hear. And that’s going to affect their grades.”

Academically, at-risk students are struggling, though it’s not clear if they are being disproportionately impacted worse than other students. For high school students who already depended on paras and extra assistance at home, the task of teaching themselves can be overwhelming.

“Academics have been a huge struggle this year, at-risk kids benefit from having daily exposure to their teachers and other students,” Cook said. “When they’re here they do okay, when they get home it’s hard to keep in touch with them because there’s a lack of ability through technology to be able to communicate. They aren’t able to reach out to the teachers as often, and it’s a lot more difficult for them to … talk with their teachers and get resource help, [or] help from their paras here.”

More students who are deemed at-risk are allowed to come to school four days a week. They will go to their regular classes on their Group’s day, then spend their other two days in a resource room where they can receive one-on-one help and visit teachers of classes they’re struggling in. This started about two weeks ago, so results aren’t immediately clear, but it’s expected to support students who weren’t able to complete work at home.

“I think it’s a great idea that struggling students are being brought in for 4 day weeks,” JAG-K Career Specialist Darian Taylor told The Mentor via email.  “Not everybody’s home is very conducive to learning or academic achievement. So if we can get more of those kids back into the school on a consistent basis and provide that missing support then obviously that’s something that can be beneficial.”

Parents and Board of Education members have consistently brought up the mental health considerations for teenagers not being around their peers, and those factors are particularly negative for these students. 


“[For] kids that are getting social work service, that sometimes needs to be ramped up a little bit because their home environments aren’t as safe as it is here at school,” Cook said. “[They] deal with a lot more than they should on a weekly basis as opposed to last year where you have 7:40 to 3:05 of a controlled environment where you’re not getting … those negative effects of your [home] environment.”

After the layoffs that came with the economic collapse in March, some students have had to step up to make ends meet within the family and take of younger siblings that are no longer being supervised in school. This further reduces their opportunities to get an education.

“Whether it’s getting a job to help financially, assisting with younger siblings who are remote or even taking care of sick family members; I know that we have students who are having to step up and do things that a 16, 18, 18-year-old shouldn’t necessarily be having to do,” Taylor said. “I commend those students who face these challenges and I have a high level of respect and admiration for them.”

Along with students who were in difficult situations before the pandemic, economic conditions due to COVID-19 have caused a massive increase in the number of students across the country that are considered impoverished. More students are now dealing with income insecurity than before, putting more stress on them and making it harder for them to succeed in school.

“Poverty has different impacts for teenagers, for young people,” Elaine Johannes, associate professor and an extension specialist in youth development in the Department of Applied human sciences at Kansas State University, said. “Before the pandemic hit, there was quite a bit of recognition and research that young people, adolescentes, younger than that even, are resilient and learn coping skills as long as they have access to models of that.”

According to Johannes, the difference between now and what previous research has shown is the sudden change in student’s economic status, for which they and the adults around them don’t have the coping skills.

“I do worry when we have young people who are suddenly thrust into what income poverty means for the family, for the community, and they have no way of coping,” Johannes said. “Lack of coping usually results in panic and anxiety, and to carry that forward and to hear it reaffirmed around them, almost makes it part of them. And so I do worry if we as adults reflect anxiety and panic and diminishment… then the young people pick that up too. I worry about that.”