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Champaign students return to second fall of in-person pandemic school

Miguel Martinez picks up his daughter, Annayaretze Martinez, after her first day of fifth grade at International Prep Academy on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022.

CHAMPAIGN — Thursday was the first day of school for most Champaign Unit 4 students.

Students at International Prep Academy welcomed the second year of fully in-person classes after the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was very, very cool, because we got to do tons of new activities,” says fifth grader Annayaretze Martinez. “At the end of the day, all of us had so much fun seeing our friends from the past grade.”

Her father, Miguel Martinez, is excited about the year too. Annayaretze does better when she learns in-person.

“She did wonderfully [last year]. Her grades came up a little bit too. They taught a lot,” Miguel Martinez says.

Like districts all over the country, Unit 4 saw major drops in student achievement during remote learning.

Only six percent of International Prep Academy students met or exceeded state English language standards in 2021, compared to the almost 28 percent of students who met or exceeded state standards before the pandemic.

Math achievement dropped less precipitously. Almost 15 percent of I-P-A students met or exceeded the 2021 standards, compared to the 26.8 percent who did in 2019.

Annayaretze says spotty internet coverage affected her remote experience, as it did many other students across the country.

“When we came back to school, we had so many other materials that were actually there. And it was easier to help other people out. You didn’t have to rely on the internet to talk with someone else, and you could trust that someone can actually hear you. Versus the internet cutting out and they cannot hear you when you think they can,” Annayaretze says.

New COVID protocols

Gabriel Cruz picks up his daughter from her first day of sixth grade at Jefferson Middle School on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022. Emily Hays/Illinois Public Media

Champaign students returned to school to more relaxed COVID-19 protocols.

Unit 4 schools are no longer calling parents about COVID-19 exposures at school. Students can also use at-home COVID tests – rather than proctored PCR tests – to return to school after experiencing symptoms.

Gabriel Cruz is a Jefferson Middle School parent. He sees fellow parents relaxing their COVID precautions too.

“We went to the open house, and I saw that most people aren’t wearing masks anymore,” Cruz says.

While some parents and students rejoiced on Thursday at the return to normalcy, Cruz says he’s not ready to let his own guard down yet.

Masks became optional in Unit 4 schools in February when Governor J-B Pritzker ended the statewide mask mandate.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that COVID-19 transmission in Champaign County is “high” and recommends people wear masks indoors in public.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt.

Picture of Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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