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El Paso area school failure rates rise by up to 20% from pandemic learning loss

EL PASO, Texas -- After more than a year of learning from home, some students are feeling unprepared to move to the next grade and they along with their parents are concerned. 

Diego Garcia is scheduled to advance to the fifth grade next year at El Paso's Douglas Elementary School, but learning through a screen has seen him fall behind and develop anxiety.

“His grades went down, but more than the grades I could see that he was having a hard time understanding the concept or really comprehending what the teacher was saying,” said Hilda Villegas, Diego's mom.

“I feel scared,” Diego said. “I feel like I can't even do it and that the other kids, they can do it, but I can not.”

But Diego's not alone in suffering a learning loss this last year. 

Cedric Morales always struggled with reading, but virtual learning made it even more difficult. 

“He wouldn’t be able to catch up with the rest of the students and so he would kind of sit back when the camera was on him and he would just have half of his face because he was so frustrated,” said Monica Manzanares-Morales, Cedric’s mom. “I could tell he was upset, I could tell he was ready to cry.”

His parents also found he was constantly muddling up Spanish and English words, which is one of the reasons the Morales’ are considering retaining Cedric in the first grade. 

The El Paso and Socorro independent school districts couldn’t give ABC-7 specific numbers - but the Yeslta district's Chief Academic Officer Brenda Chacon-Robles estimated YISD will see a 10 to 20% increase in failure rates this year.

However YISD's goal, like the other districts, is to promote as many students as possible to the next grade level. 

“We want to close those gaps as quickly as possible because we want to catch our kids up to where they used to be,” Chacon-Robles said. “Whatever that gap is for each child because I mean their trajectory depends on it.”

The school districts told ABC-7 they are offering a combination of before and after school catch up sessions and summer school to fill in the voids. They also plan on weaving students' learning gaps back into next year's curriculum. 

“We are going to accelerate instruction, we’re going to spiral in things they have not been able to master and we’re going to give them all the tools to be successful,” said Lucia Borrego, SISD’s chief academic officer. 

But some aren’t convinced it will be enough. 

“I'm really worried,” Diego said. “I don't know what they’re going to give me because it might be hard to do because I don't really know how to do all of this stuff right now.”

Not only has Diego had to adjust to learning through a screen, but he also had four different teachers throughout the pandemic. 

“I totally blame the district,” Villegas said. “The school really doesn’t have the capacity to help my son."

One of Villegas’ reasons for this is the lack of communication they received from EPISD. 

The school has recommended that Diego attend summer school but instead of it being at Douglas Elementary, the school he attends, Villegas told ABC-7 they’re sending him to another school. 

“Why do children from these vulnerable communities have to leave their community and their safety net to just recuperate education,” Villegas said. 

Because of this Villegas said she is unlikely to send Diego to summer school.

“When you create barriers for families to access these resources, sometimes they hurt the child more than they help,” Villegas said. 

According to the data posted at the bottom of this article, schools in and around the Segundo Barrio area are performing at some of the lowest rates across El Paso in elementary, middle and high school education. 

“We have not seen the district take the time and really come and talk to our children, even though the community really hurts a lot,” Villegas said.

Article Topic Follows: Education

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Rachel Phillips

Rachel Phillips is the weekend sports anchor and reporter.


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