With students coming back to classrooms, North Salem High School created a powerful video to emphasize that young people have learned and grown in the past year, despite academic disruptions. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
For more than a year, “learning loss” has been a public drumbeat after schools closed and shifted to distance learning. Parents, educators and government leaders have worried what will become of students whose education was disrupted by a global pandemic.
North Salem High students have a simple message for the community: “We are not broken.”
“We’re stronger because of what happened,” said senior Monserrat Hernandez Escobar.
Hernandez is one of the students appearing in a video for the school called “North Salem High: What shall we do.” The video is part of a wider pushback against thinking about this school year only in terms of what didn’t get done.
The Oregon Department of Education is avoiding the term “learning loss,” instead referring to “unfinished learning.” ODE Director Colt Gill shared the video at the April 15 State Board of Education meeting.
The video encourages educators to meet students where they are and to help them make sense of an upside-down world where the old standards don’t apply. It emphasizes that students did not miss worksheets or tests, but they did miss the care and guidance of their teachers. And most of all it tries to deliver the message that the time wasn’t lost and that students need to be heard.
Administrators created the video to prepare teachers for the hybrid return of in-person classes April 12. It features students, staff and community members talking about where students really are and what they need.
Hernandez said social media is rife with the message that students haven’t been able to handle the pandemic. Instead, she said, she has learned this year that she can rely on herself to focus, work hard and reach her goals. She has learned to listen and ask questions, she said.
He liked the way the post framed the past year in terms of assets student had gained that could be built on rather than deficits that had to be addressed.
“The learning never stopped,” he said.
He initially saw it as way to frame a discussion with teachers for pre-return professional development, but the project grew as he and others envisioned bringing in more voices. He said the majority of the video’s ideas apply universally, even with COVID-19 out of the question. He named other disruptions this year that offered growth, including the Black Lives Matter movement, the wildfires and political protests at the Capitol not far from the campus.
The video has a professional polish to it, but it was made in-house. Ruiz tapped North Salem science teacher Danny “Hollywood” Ortiz, who has film industry experience. The script was written with the help of the instructional mentors team.
Instructional mentor Jamie Davis said the most important line to him was that students did not need to be fixed.
“They come to our school with a different set of things they have learned,” he said. “Maybe the academic parts aren’t as solid, but they are still here as people.”
Instructional mentor Michael Simental said they wanted to capture the gravity of the moment. They chose teachers, community members and even former administrators to add to the impact, but he said having student voices was the most important.
“It’s their school,” he said.
He said the script echoed sentiments he had heard from students, sometimes for years. Students helped refine their own words, including in other languages.
North Salem is one of the most diverse schools in Oregon, with 71% of the student body identifying as other than White. To help drive the message home, students spoke in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Chuukese, a Pacific Island language.
Hernandez said it was important for her to be able to speak in Spanish so her community would understand and it made her proud to speak Spanish.
Junior Paul Quach, who spoke in Vietnamese, agreed.
“It is really empowering, not only for myself, to have my own language being shared and everyone else’s too,” he said. “It shows how valued these students of color are.”
Quach also said it was necessary to change this year’s narrative on students. Even though students may have suffered trauma and needed more mental health supports, that shouldn’t be a stigma.
“We only grew,” he said. “We only got better.”
Hernandez said the video has sparked conversations in classrooms. She said students needed teachers to listen to them, but students also needed to hear that the school was concerned about their safety and offering them support.
“This video was necessary,” she said. “It was a message they were really hoping to hear.”