BUFFALO, N.Y. — Most kids are headed back to school next week, and for many, it's a return to some sense of normalcy after learning remotely for much of the past two school years.

What You Need To Know

  • Kids in Western New York are headed back to school soon
  • After learning remotely for much of the past two school years, have they fallen behind?
  • A local educator discusses what students have missed out on, and the importance of being back in the classroom

"Cautiously optimistic about kids coming back," said Wendy Paterson, dean of SUNY Buffalo State's School of Education.

She says the benefits of children being back in the classroom in-person outweigh the risks.

"We feel that more damage can be done to our children's wellbeing, to their mental health, to their learning curves, you name all those dispositions of being in school, than their danger of contracting the disease," Paterson said.

Many students spent big chunks of the last two school years learning from home. While it was important they stayed connected, Paterson says some kids tuned out.

"I don't think people understand that television and remote learning is two-dimensional — it really isn't three-dimensional," Paterson said. "You're not in a room with people. It's not the same as having a dynamic interaction with people in physical state."

So are students behind because of remote learning? Paterson says kids are resilient and can pick up old and new knowledge quickly — but another year of online classrooms could be problematic.

"Going into this year and thinking that students might need to be remote again was much more concerning," Paterson said. "Another year without socially-constructed learning, without being with your peers, without being under the guidance of a real human being, would have an impact on students in the long-term."

Paterson says educators will have to change the way they approach testing and work to understand some kids might need more time to catch up than others. As far as any negative impacts of having to wear masks in school, she believes the kids handle it better than some adults do. The bottom line: doing whatever it takes to have students have the full classroom experience is critical. 

"I really do believe that we have to do this,” she said. “Our children really have not lost a year, because children really never lose a year of growth and learning, but they really do need have that social-emotional learning that takes place with real teachers in classrooms.”