THE pandemic has caused extraordinary disruptions in education across the globe. During the onset of the crisis, schools in the Marianas closed before implementing online classes. Students then persevered against the challenges of blended learning as schools mixed remote classes with sporadic face-to-face sessions while adhering to strict safety protocols.  Nearly all graduation ceremonies for two consecutive school years were hosted as drive-through events.

Hardworking and dedicated teachers, school officials, and support staff did their best to fulfill their duties in educating students safely, while parents found themselves more actively assisting their children with schoolwork. Families learned to navigate their way through these unchartered waters and are now seeing plans unfold for schoolchildren to return full-time to the classrooms.

As the start of the new school year nears, the threat of the pandemic remains ever-present.  The CNMI Public School System and our healthcare officials are making a coordinated effort to get eligible students vaccinated. The newly launched “Vaccination for Education” campaign encourages students older than 12 years old to get fully vaccinated to help the Marianas reach the 80% target vaccination rate. The goal is to have 80% of the student population fully inoculated to allow for face-to-face classes five days a week. If the target is not met, public schools will hold double sessions, and students will be grouped into “static cohorts.” PSS will also increase risk mitigation measures, such as testing for Covid-19 in schools, requiring six-feet social distancing, and suspending group and extracurricular activities.

While we acknowledge that online classes help students continue their studies during this time, experts are worried about the long-term effects of prolonged remote learning on students’ mental, social, emotional, and academic development.

In a research conducted last year, developmental psychologists note how students talked a lot about how they missed having spontaneous and real conversations and relationships with their classmates and teachers. A UNESCO-Global Education Coalition study showed that more than 100 million children will fall below the minimum proficiency level in reading due to the impact of school closures. Not every student is geared for online learning or responds well to it.

Teachers are also affected by the disruption in education. They’ve had to modify lesson plans to work with online instruction, reduced time, limited resources, and short attention spans. On top of that, every student, teacher, and staff member face great risk with in-person learning if the school community does not achieve its 80% target vaccination rate. This is the most important step we can take as a community before the school year opens.

Let’s work together to get vaccinated so the Marianas can reach its 80% vaccination rate. Together, we can protect our educators and children and get them back into the classrooms safely.

For more information, visit the GCEA at cnmieconomy.com, on Facebook and Instagram (@cnmigov.economy), or contact them at gceacnmi@gmail.com

Mike Sablan is vice president of Triple J Enterprises Inc. and chairperson of the Domestic Policy and Recovery Committee of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers. As an advisory council for Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios, the GCEA’s mission is to improve the quality of life in the Marianas for all residents.

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