ATHENS — The COVID-19 pandemic has changed all parts of life to some degree — and that is certainly the case when it comes to the way students are receiving their education.

Athens Superintendent Craig Stage admitted at Tuesday’s school board meeting that there was some troubling data coming out of the school district this year.

From students missing school — whether in-person or online — to kids struggling to make the grade, officials are looking for ways to correct problems in the district.

“The principals were asked to start looking at some things that we’re really starting to be challenged academically with our students. If there’s anything that we can do, we need to start looking at the data now. We’re definitely seeing trends in attendance, we’re seeing trends in failing grades,” Stage said.

“We also need to develop a long-term plan to stem the learning losses (that we may see) this year because of the alternative learning environments we’ve offered plus the lack of in-person instruction that some students have received since March,” he added.

Stage stressed that the difficulties the district is seeing is not because of their teachers, but the situation the pandemic has put everyone in since last March.

“We attribute this not to our teachers, but simply that education has not looked the same since March of 2020 and it’s really going to a reap a negative benefit to our students in the long run,” Stage said.

According to Stage, the number one thing the school district needs to focus on is attendance.

“Attendance is key. Coming to school is important whether you’re attending online/live streaming, whether you’re attending our online academy, or you’re attending in-person,” he said. “We are seeing a big trend and we really want to put the message out that attendance is key to every student’s success and no matter what the situation is, you need to log in to your learning environment.”

Stage also stressed that Athens students are expected to do the work and pass their classes this year.

“I want to squash any rumors that are out there that say that this school year is going to be a pass no matter what. That is absolutely not true — grades count, failing grades will matter, and you may potentially be retained or fail the course and have to repeat that course. I want that to be very well known about some misconceptions that are out there in the public,” Stage said.

Stage said the school district is focused on giving their students the best education possible, while keeping them as safe as possible.

“Finally, I want to make sure that everybody understands that at the start of the school year, we need to recommit and refocus on the goal at hand and that it’s absolutely providing the absolute best possible education that we can for our students in the safest conditions possible,” Stage said.

“While the Pennsylvania Department of Education constantly and repeatedly has updated its instructional model, we are committed to doing it in the most conservative and cautious approach possible,” Stage continued. “We will be continuing with in-person instruction and we will be continuing to follow those guidelines closely. The 14-day rolling average per period is still in play and if too many COVID-19 cases hit us we will be forced to close. That’s why my final plea is if you are sick, if your child is sick, do not send them to school. If you are waiting on a COVID-19 test do not send your child to school. If you are COVID-19 positive or if your child is COVID-19 positive, do not send them to school.”

“That impact, I know is a burden on the family, but the greater impact is that it could impact an entire building.”

Pat McDonald can be reached at (570) 888-9643 ext. 228 or Follow Managing Editor Pat McDonald on Twitter @PatMcDonaldMT.

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