Despite our deepest wish, the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Students are still traumatized, and they are still struggling. They have lost social connections, emotional support, and learning time, and it will take an enormous investment from the state and local community to get our students back on track and feeling safe and supported.
The impact of this pandemic can hardly be overstated: early learning in Cleveland has been devastated, with severely reduced enrollment, teacher shortages, reduced capacity, and overall system instability. Overall enrollment in high-quality preschool in Cleveland dropped from 42 percent in December of 2019 to 25 percent in June of 2021. Within Cleveland Metropolitan School District preschools, enrollment declined by 53 percent between the 2019–20 and 2020–21 school years. While enrollment numbers continue to climb as families return to work and vaccinations increase, initial data from the 2021–22 school year show ongoing enrollment challenges.
Cleveland K–12 students have returned to in-person learning, but attendance rates are down across schools. The CMSD continues to offer a remote option, which is at capacity—evidence of families’ hesitation around in-person learning. Postsecondary pursuits have been similarly affected, with declines in College Credit Plus and Advanced Placement participation, FAFSA application rates, and college enrollment and completion.
While CMSD students are less likely to drop out—in fact, Black and Hispanic students are still more likely to graduate from CMSD schools than other public schools across the State—we know that some older students are being drawn from the classroom and into the workforce. Students are helping to support their families and experiencing the short-term benefits of an income. Yet, the long-term impact of failing to graduate has severe implications for students and our community.
While recovery will take time, the Cleveland Plan continues to be the north star for our education community. And there are some bright spots to celebrate. In May 2021, Leean Andino became the first Say Yes Cleveland scholarship student to graduate from college. Andino participated in the College Credit Plus program in high school, which enabled her to take college courses at the start of tenth grade. She finished high school with an associate degree from Cuyahoga Community College, and after just two years, she graduated from Cleveland State University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.1 Andino and her peers not only benefited from a Say Yes Cleveland scholarship, but also Say Yes support services that help prepare students from kindergarten through twelfth grade to address other barriers to education and encourage students to stay engaged in their education. Say Yes Cleveland support services are being rolled out over four years, with all CMSD and eligible charter schools receiving supports by 2023.
Cleveland students will persevere with the support of the community. Cleveland must come together to invest in its students and ensure they can reach their highest potential.