Giving Thought: How COVID-19 impacts high school seniors |

Giving Thought: How COVID-19 impacts high school seniors

High schoolers are in the home stretch. A few weeks stand between school and summer, and the feeling of excitement is tangible. Whether they’ve been in person or online, the past year was incredibly difficult for students and teachers in our region.

For many students, summer isn’t the only exciting happening on the horizon. On Saturday, National College Decision Day, students across the country announced their commitment to the college of their choice. Many other students are preparing for other postsecondary opportunities as well. This moment marks the start of a new chapter and the promise of a bright future for many young people across the country.

However, after a year of unexpected and persistent challenges, this day isn’t one of celebration for all students. Many students with postsecondary aspirations are putting their plans on hold due to difficulties in school or financial hardship. The pandemic forced students to adapt to rapidly changing learning environments that weren’t suitable for all learning needs. Online schooling this past year put many students without stable internet access or a quiet place to learn at an incredible disadvantage. It was difficult for students to keep up, and with the end of the school year fast approaching many are facing the consequences.

The Roaring Fork School District has reported higher failure rates among high school students over the past year, likely as a result of the pandemic. This gap in achievement witnessed in high schools across the country has been dubbed the “COVID slip” by Aspen School District officials. The pattern is troubling for students who are working to fulfill graduation requirements and core curriculum.

Though there is no conclusive data yet, school officials expect these patterns to impact graduation rates across the region. This impact will likely disproportionately impact students from low-income households who are already at a disadvantage due to achievement gaps. Before the pandemic, students of color and students from low-income households were struggling to keep up with their whiter and wealthier peers. Due to external stressors, structural racism and a lack of resources, graduation gaps already existed among this group. The “COVID slip” threatens to further exacerbate this inequity.

To help students stay on track, school districts are finding creative ways to prioritize those with lower grades so they can catch up. Strategies include increasing summer educational programming and incorporating additional opportunities for students to make up for lost time in the fall. Schools are hopeful these efforts will stabilize graduation rates and get students on track to make postsecondary plans.

Postsecondary education has proven to accelerate social and economic mobility for students from low-income households. To support students’ aspirations, nearly 100 local and state organizations, including Aspen Community Foundation, provide scholarship opportunities for students seeking postsecondary education in the region. These scholarships, though not a singular solution for increasing college attendance, provide meaningful support for individuals throughout their postsecondary journey.

As we continue to witness the repercussions of COVID-19 on graduation rates and college attendance, it is essential that we as a community continue to provide holistic support to students in the region. Higher education gives students the opportunity to earn more money, expand their networks and improve their overall well-being. When students from low-income households are given the support necessary to pursue a postsecondary pathway, they can interrupt the cycles of inequity that impact them and their families.

The individuals at the front lines of this effort are the teachers who work to improve and enrich the lives of our students each and every day. During Teacher Appreciation Week, we celebrate the inspiring work our regions’ teachers have been doing to keep students interested and engaged through an incredibly difficult year.

Tamara Tormohlen is the executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.