Oh yes, they want to come back, “to see their friends.” But after they see their friends, for how many days will they submit to a structure that they have not had for a year and a half? Classes that last 45 or 90 minutes, three-minute passing periods between classes, get up at 7 a.m., sit in a seat with no food or drink all day, and no social media during class?

Not to mention handing in work and handing it in on time. Currently, schools are only getting homework/work from about 40–50% of the students, and when they do get work, it is often not on time. There are a lot of A’s and I’s. How do you reintroduce rigor when there has been very little for a year and a half?

Why would students come to school all day when they have learned that at home, schooling virtually, they can get all their work done by noon?

At middle schools, many teachers will not have met their incoming sixth graders in person, nor their incoming seventh graders, and they only have limited time in person with their eighth graders. In high school, it will be half of the student population. How do teachers put structures in place when they have met in person fewer than a third to half of their students?

Will the parents who work two jobs. who have come to rely upon their secondary children for childcare, will they want them to go back in person when they can be schooled virtually?

How will schools find and reinvolve the approximately 20% of students who either cannot be found or do not engage at all?

There is, of course, the mental health challenge as well. Social isolation is as damaging to longevity as is smoking. And for adolescents, their brain development is very dependent upon peer interaction. (See Emotional Poverty, Volume 2, Chapter 3.) How will we provide emotional/mental wellness support?

Some suggestions for your consideration

Key motivators for students to come back in person and continue coming are these:

(1) A future story. A future story is key for a long-term commitment for the future. In the research on resilience, it is a key strategy to focus on the future. I like the visual story board, nine square boxes in which the key question is: What do you want to have, be, or do by the time you are 25? What is your plan to get that? How do your classes right now help you get there? Students select one picture/image for each of these areas. Then they make a plan about what they will need to do to get that story for themselves.

(2) Opportunities for social relationships/belonging. I know one high school principal who did the following: She shaved a couple of minutes off each class. After first period, there was a 20-minute socialization time when students could be on their cell phones, talking, and clubs could meet, etc. Each student got this time if their attendance was at a certain level, tardies were minimal, and grades were passing.

(3) A key relationship with an adult on staff who makes daily contact and does not give up on students. Two key questions you can ask students are these: Who cares the most about you, and who do you care the most about? What you are listening for is an adult. If they do not have an adult, we find a staff member who talks to them one-on-one every day for 3–4 minutes.

(4) Access to support systems in the school and community who help them work through, address, and acknowledge the realities in their lives (mobility, homelessness, abuse, emotional and mental health issues). Many times, a referral system and linkages are needed to help with issues outside of school that destabilize school success. A list of these should be available to every staff member, as well as a referral system in the school.


It is my opinion that this issue—getting secondary students to come to school in person and stay in school—will be one of the biggest challenges of 2021–2022.