Education in the time of COVID, sexual assault allegations and rising violence
This year, the education beat wasn’t just about classrooms and school board meetings and test results.
It included how schools would recover from a yearlong virtual learning experiment that no one anticipated. How Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools responded to allegations of sexual assault on its campuses, and how it is combating a growing problem of violence and guns in schools.
WFAE tackled the stories with veteran education reporter Ann Doss Helms leading the charge, but with assists from WFAE’s investigations team of Sarah Delia and Lisa Worf, and even help from politics writer Steve Harrison, Race & Equity reporter Maria Ramirez Uribe and “All Things Considered” host Gwendolyn Glenn.
This three-part series examines the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Oakdale Elementary School in northwest Charlotte. The pandemic disrupted normally stable homes, and remote learning proved problematic for families with language barriers. The school saw classroom grades plunge because so many students failed to turn in work.
This three-part series was part of Rebuilding Charlotte, but also deserves a mention here because of how in-depth Helms and Harrison looked into CMS and neighboring district test scores. During the 2020-2021 school year, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students spent most of the year learning online. Students in neighboring districts spent more time in the classroom. When test scores were released, CMS students usually had far larger drops.
WFAE’s Sarah Delia reported on a former Myers Park High School student who said she never reported her sexual assault because of the message of discouraging filing reports that she received from the administration. Her assault, she said, was like many others and took place in the wooded area surrounding the school.
As Charlotte-Mecklenburg police looked for suspects in the shooting death of a 3-year-old, they suspected teenagers from CMS schools to be involved. Many students stayed home from school out of fear after CMPD connected their high schools to the shooting, and Lisa Worf reported on the anxiety of students, parents and teachers.
Charlotte's Cherry neighborhood has changed a lot in the last decade. Gentrification has changed what was once a predominantly Black neighborhood that was founded to promote home ownership for working class African Americans, to one that's now 60% white. Cherry residents have fought to save what’s left of their community — and the latest battle is over securing ownership of Morgan, the neighborhood's now-closed school. WFAE’s Gwendolyn Glenn talked with numerous residents to hear their stories.
As part of our Rebuilding Charlotte series, Helms looked at the recovery from the pandemic from a different angle: from the vantage point of educators and staff. As students came back in the fall, educators said shortages of teachers, bus drivers and substitutes made it tough to return to normal. As exhaustion set in, administrators were seeking creative staffing solutions.
Also for Rebuilding Charlotte, Helms looked at one way North Carolina hoped to recover. The pandemic created a host of immediate challenges, but the key to long-term economic recovery is teaching North Carolina’s children to read. That’s according to state lawmakers who passed a “science of reading” bill and a group of CEOs who gathered to support that strategy. The unlikely source of inspiration? Mississippi.