The educational stories that stayed with us

Education Week publishes thousands of stories, opinions and videos each year. And every year we find ourselves re-reading some of the ones that stick with us. Those who spoke the loudest. The stories that haunt us.

This year, I asked our reporters, editors, and members of our visual teams to reflect a little: What story did you work on this year that continues to resonate? How has it contributed to our understanding of a problem as a whole? Can you share some information about reporting?

In this two-part series, we give you a look under the hood. In Part 1, we’ll hear reporters talk about the stories they’ve been working on. Stay tuned for part 2, where we will receive additional information from the editors.

“‘Covid is not upon us’: As pandemic continues, one Texas mother’s terror deepens”

In early 2022, schools were closed due to dozens of staff members being infected with the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19. The disruptions were so pervasive that they presented a difficult reporting challenge—how do you cover something that’s happening everywhere while still differentiating your work and your insights from everyone else’s?

The answer came when I found Crystal Curtis, a health care worker who, in a fit of exasperation, had posted on social media about her frustrations with navigating her school district’s changing policies on masking and her son’s experiences at school.

Talking to Curtis put me at ease about a few things I had been thinking about. One was that the debates about masking and implicit learning were flattened into binaries. In fact, as her experience showed, people’s feelings about these things were deeply personal, shaped by their own encounters with school systems. Curtis’ decision was complicated by the fact that her son is black—she wanted him to wear masks for his own protection, but she also feared that people would see his choice of masks as a threat.

The interview also highlighted the fact that even when children returned to face-to-face learning, the quality of learning had not always returned to what it could or should be. We may, at least theoretically, be in a different place now that omicron-targeted boosters have been available for a while. But the themes that this piece illuminated stay with me: Which people are served well by schools and which are not? And how does this shape the way we engage with schools?

— Stephen Sawchuk, Assistant Editor-in-Chief

Jacqueline Mancinelli in the Garden of Angels at Virtua Hospital in Voorhees, New Jersey on August 4, 2022. Mancinelli is a teacher and founder of Start Healing Together.

“Inside the push to include miscarriages and stillbirths in teacher leave policies”

While at the National Education Association’s annual meeting this summer, I was struck by the teacher who stood up in front of everyone to advocate for paid leave for miscarriages and stillbirths. She had learned first-hand that these losses typically do not qualify for loss leave in school districts. I started researching the issue and found so many heartbreaking stories: a teacher had an active miscarriage while teaching elementary school students; another was told she was ineligible for parental leave after a stillbirth because she “only cares for [her]myself.”

Although teaching is a predominantly female profession, there are so many barriers to parenting. Few school districts offer paid parental leave, and most schools do not accept teachers who are breastfeeding. Lack of leave due to pregnancy loss is another complaint.

At a time when teachers feel disrespected and demoralized and are considering leaving the profession, it is important to shine a light on these workplace challenges.

— Madeline Will, staff writer

Larry Zurcher, a sustainability teacher on assignment for the Lake Oswego School District, prepares students to conduct a food waste audit of their school buildings on December 9, 2021.

“‘It Must Be a Priority’: Why Schools Can’t Ignore the Climate Crisis”

Covering the devastating effects of climate change can feel like shouting into a rapidly closing void. The tenor of the outrage doesn’t come close to the scale of the problem.

That’s why I was proud to collaborate this year with my colleague Madeline Will on this pair of pieces that outline how climate change affects schools; how schools contribute to climate change; and how schools can tackle climate change.

The biggest thing I took away, besides the impending sense of doom that will probably never fully subside, is how much school districts can do right now— not ultimately — to make the fight against climate change an active priority — and how much More ▼ could do with more robust financial support for these efforts. It’s never too late to start.

— Mark Lieberman, staff writer

Aerial view of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on July 20, 2022.

“In Uvalde, pain where once there was pride”

If there was a story of the year in 2022, it was surely the horrific mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. The shooting added another tragic chapter to the national narrative about school safety and gun laws.

For the city’s Mexican and Mexican-American families, it also marked a dark end for Robb Elementary, the school that for years served as a reminder of both the painful past of segregation and how families and students worked to overcome it.

Education Week covered the tragedy as a heavy news event, but we knew we wanted to go further than that. My story highlighted the connections between past and present, drawing on archival documents and interviews with residents who were there in the 1970s and who once again have to grapple with the legacy of the school.

— Ileana Naharo, staff writer

Image of Dissatisfied, Neutral, Satisfied.

ThitareeSarmkasat/iStock/Getty

“School psychologists remain fearful even as needs grow”

Nearly 40 percent of all school districts in the country, which enroll 5.4 million students, did not have a single school psychologist during the first full year of the pandemic.

And while most districts had a school counselor in the 2020-21 school year, only 14 percent met the ratio of one school counselor per 250 students recommended by the American School Counselor Association. And the whiter the student population in a district, the more likely it is to meet the recommended ratios of school mental health professionals.

These frankly startling statistics come from original analysis by my co-reporter, EdWeek librarian and data scientist, Maya Reiser-Kosicki. The story began (as they often do) when Maya was poking around in some federal databases. After some preliminary analysis, we knew we had something that would be very relevant to Education Week readers, and we jumped at it.

What we’ve published is an in-depth study of the dire shortage of school counselors and psychologists in schools, when student needs are perhaps greatest, and the real-world consequences of that shortage, as told to us by students, teachers, principals, counselors, psychologists and nurses.

— Ariana Prothero, staff writer

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