February 8, 2023

Health Mettler Institute

Healthy LifeStyle & Education

The Education Stories That Stuck With Us

Education Week publishes thousands of stories, opinion pieces, and videos every year. And every year, we find ourselves rereading some of the ones that stick with us. The ones that spoke the loudest. The stories that haunt us.

This year, I asked our reporters, editors, and members of our visual teams to do a bit of reflecting: What story did you work on this year that continues to resonate? How did it add to our understanding of a problem at large? Can you share any insights about the reporting?

In this two-part series, we give you a look under the hood. In part 1, we’ll hear from reporters talking about the stories they worked on. Stay tuned for part 2, where we’ll get additional insights from newsroom leaders.

“ ‘COVID Is Not Over Us’: As Pandemic Lingers, a Texas Mother’s Dismay Deepens”

Early in 2022, schools were wracked with closures due to dozens of staff members contracting the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19. Outages were so widespread that it posed a difficult reporting challenge—how do you cover something that’s happening everywhere while distinguishing 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 pique, had posted on social media about her frustrations navigating her school district’s changing policies about masking and her son’s experiences in school.

Talking to Curtis threw a few things I’d been thinking about into relief. One was that the debates about masking and in-person schooling had been flattened into binary frames. In fact, as her experience showed, people’s feelings about these things were deeply personal, shaped by their own encounters with school systems. Curtis’ own decision was complicated by the fact that her son is Black—she wanted him to wear masks for his protection but was also afraid people would see his choice of masks as threatening.

The interview also illuminated the fact that even when kids were back to in-person schooling, the quality of instruction hadn’t always returned to what it could or should be. We may be, at least theoretically, in a different place now that boosters aimed at omicron have available for a while. But the themes that that this piece illuminated stay with me: which people do schools serve well and which ones aren’t served well? And how does that shape how we engage with schools?

—Stephen Sawchuk, assistant managing editor

Jacquelyn Mancinelli in the angel garden at Virtua Hospital in Vorhees, NJ, on Aug. 4, 2022. Mancinelli is a teacher and the founder of Start Healing Together.

”Inside the Push to Include Miscarriages and Stillbirths in Teachers’ 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 time off for miscarriages and stillbirths. She had learned firsthand that those losses don’t usually qualify for bereavement leave in school districts. I began looking into the issue and found so many heart-wrenching stories: One teacher was actively miscarrying while teaching elementary students; another was told that she didn’t qualify for parental leave after her stillbirth because she was “only caring for [her]self.”

Even though teaching is a predominately female profession, there are so many barriers in place to parenthood. Few school districts offer paid parental leave, and most schools don’t accommodate teachers who are breastfeeding. The lack of bereavement leave for pregnancy loss is yet another grievance.

At a time when teachers are feeling disrespected and demoralized, and are considering leaving the profession, these workplace challenges are important to shed light on.

—Madeline Will, staff writer

Larry Zurcher, sustainability teacher on special assignment for the Lake Oswego School District, prepares students to audit their school building's food waste on Dec. 9, 2021.

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

Covering the devastating effects of climate change can feel like shouting into a void that’s rapidly closing. The tenor of the outrage doesn’t come close to matching 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 outlines how climate change is affecting schools; how schools are contributing to climate change; and how schools can fight climate change.

The biggest thing I took away, aside from an impending feeling of doom that probably will never fully abate, is how much school districts can do right now—not eventually—to make fighting climate change an active priority—and how much more they could do with more robust financial support for those efforts. It’s never too late to start.

—Mark Lieberman, staff writer

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

“In Uvalde, Pain Where There Once Was Pride”

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

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

Education Week covered the tragedy as a hard 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 wrestle with the school’s legacy.

—Ileana Najarro, staff writer

Image of dissatisfied, neutral, satisfied.

ThitareeSarmkasat/iStock/Getty

“School Psychologists Remain Scare Even As Needs Rise”

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

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

Those frankly startling stats come from an original analysis by my co-reporter, EdWeek librarian and data specialist, Maya Riser-Kositsky. The story started (as they often do), with Maya poking around in some federal databases. After a preliminary analysis, we knew we had something that would be highly relevant to Education Week readers and dove in.

What we published is an in-depth exploration of the massive shortages of school counselors and psychologists in schools when students needs are arguably at their greatest and the very real consequences of those shortages, as told to us by students, teachers, principals, counselors, psychologists, and nurses.

—Arianna Prothero, staff writer