A new podcast on how the pandemic transformed public education in WA

Listen to all six episodes now.

Four portraits

Clockwise from top left: First grade teacher Carter Allen (Genna Martin/Crosscut); Dehlia Winbush and daughter Denira (Chona Kasinger for Crosscut); student recovery specialist at Green River College Joan King (Jovelle Tamayo for Crosscut);11th grader Adar Abdi. (Genna Martin/Crosscut)

When Gov. Jay Inslee announced in March 2020 that Washington state’s schools would be shutting their doors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the initial plan was for a six-week closure. But then, as the reality of the virus continued to evolve, the return to normal was pushed back and altered again and again.

Two years later, students are mostly back to the classroom, but the uncertainties about the future of education continue as the impacts of the pandemic reverberate. The shutdowns, after all, forced millions of children across the nation to attend school online for the first time, resulting in all kinds of chaos, frustration, mental health struggles, academic learning loss and even a dip in public school enrollment.

For the third season of This Changes Everything, we are taking an in-depth look at that disruption. We talked to teachers, parents, students and administrators about the difficulties and the discoveries and emerged with a few lessons from a turning point in American education.

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One big takeaway is that there are things Americans have learned from this experience, too — including, in some cases, a fresh perspective on deep, systemic issues that have plagued education since long before the virus. And some teachers, students and families see this tumultuous moment as more than a challenge. They also see it as an opportunity.

Over the course of six episodes, all available now, we explore the emergence of grace as an educational practice, the toll that the pandemic has taken on students’ mental health, the possible benefits of online learning, how the pandemic and protests changed the conversation around racism in education, and how this prolonged state of weirdness has helped some parents better understand how their children learn.

And as schools continue to manage a bumpy “return to normal,” we ask: Is “normal” even possible? And should that even be the goal? 

Listen to the entire season now:

Episode 1: How 'grace' became the word for some WA educators

Episode 2: The mental health crisis afflicting students and their teachers

Episode 3: When online learning actually works

Episode 4: The toll that 'normal' school takes on students of color

Episode 5: Meet the students pushing for more equity in public schools

Episode 6: What the shutdowns taught some WA parents about special education


Host/Producer: Sara Bernard

Reporters: Venice Buhain, Claudia Rowe

Editorial assistant: Brooklyn Jamerson-Flowers

Consulting editor: Donna Blankinship

Executive producer/story editor: Mark Baumgarten

Audio support: Jonah Cohen


 Support for this podcast is provided by:

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