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Schools, parents worry how pandemic phenomenon of 'learning loss' will affect students returning to the classroom

Schools are having to come up with creative ways to address the learning loss many students experienced over the last year.

INDIANAPOLIS — The past year of the pandemic has been especially difficult on students across the state. Moving back and forth from in-person to online learning, missing out on social exposure and the overall disruption to development.

Now schools are gearing up to have students back in class and to address the "learning loss" students have experienced after this extraordinary year.

RELATED: Study shows Indiana students experiencing significant impact from COVID-19 pandemic

The doors are set to open in just a few weeks at Saint Mary’s Child Center, a preschool in Indianapolis. 

Right now, administrators don’t know for sure if the kids will be required to wear masks. One thing they do know, that they did learn during the months that the kids were home during the pandemic, was just how important in-person learning is to kids of the preschool age.

"It's better for them to be in school learning, being around other kids than for them to just be at home," Maria Janik said. That’s the lesson, she took away from the early months of coronavirus when schools were shut down and her 4-year-old daughter Ashlyn couldn’t go to preschool at Saint Mary’s Child Center. 

"I would say she did lose a lot. Working from home and trying to help my other kids through elementary school, it didn't give me much time for Ashlyn," Janik said.

Now Janik worries what that means for her daughter, who's set to start kindergarten in a few weeks. 

"Recently, she went to get tested for kindergarten and I feel like there's still a lot of things that she is missing and I felt like if we had stayed open, if COVID wouldn't have happened last year, it would have been a lot better for her," Janik said.

Studies show a child’s brain develops the most up until they’re five, setting the stage for later learning in life. 

"There's so much that happens in the brain of a young child in those early years," said Diane Pike, the director at Saint Mary's downtown location. "It's a very critical time in brain development." 

Pike said 93 percent of their students are living in poverty and the global pandemic certainly didn't help parents who were already struggling. But the parents aren't the only ones feeling this stress, Pike said "children feel that stress as well."

Not to mention young students were also getting a handle on a new way of learning via Zoom. 

"Twenty preschoolers on a Zoom call is kind of off the chain, but what they did was meet in small groups," Pike said. 

Kids also lost the ability to connect with peers. Pike emphasized that social and emotional learning is "one of the most important things that happens in early childhood classrooms." 

That's why Janik is keeping her fingers crossed as her daughter heads to kindergarten. She knows how important those first steps can be. 

"It's essential for them to come," Janik said. "It's wonderful for them to be here."