The first year of the Covid-19 pandemic was devastating: classrooms emptied, dorms shuttered, livelihoods shattered, millions of lives lost.
Then came 2021. “No matter who I talk to, they tell me: ‘This is the hardest year that I’ve ever had in education,’”
one school leader told The Hechinger Report this fall.
The gaps between children with more and children with less cracked wider. Trauma, depression and anxiety among
caregivers, teachers and students spiked. The financial burden of college became too much for too many students. The virus ravaged families and left behind hundreds of thousands of orphans. Climate change fueled fires, hurricanes and floods, sowing more chaos and disruption.
The Hechinger Report’s stories investigated the growing inequities, the deepening crises, the frustration and the divisions that made problems harder to solve. We also reported on the tenacity, creativity and hope that kept people going even in their worst moments. The following pictures capture the tragedy and resilience that marked 2021.
Debrin Adon, a senior at the University Park Campus School in Worcester, Massachusetts. His male classmates “don’t think they’re smart enough” for college, Adon says. “They doubt themselves a little bit because of their life and what they’ve been through and what they’ve been seen as.” Kate Flock for The Hechinger Report
Berta Romero is a counselor for English learners at Mary Harris Mother Jones Elementary school in Prince George’s County, Maryland. It’s a new position that was created before the pandemic, to help undocumented children. She says many have been through very traumatic situations. “Having those flashbacks all the time and living with that is not easy. It’s not easy.” Tyrone Turner for WAMU
A math teacher at Trevor Browne High School in Phoenix teaching online in an empty classroom. Phoenix Union High School District Credit: Phoenix Union High School District
Black youth and Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County lead a silent march of an estimated 60,000 people in June to show support for Black lives. Later that month, the Seattle school board voted to remove police officers from its schools. Neal Morton/The Hechinger Report Credit: Neal Morton/The Hechinger Report
Sol Forest School students play a game that looks like follow-the-leader in February 2021. Interest in outdoor schools like Sol has spiked since Covid-19 hit the United States last year. Adria Malcolm for The Hechinger Report Credit: Adria Malcolm for The Hechinger Report
First grader Nevaeh Korsmo reaches for hand sanitizer while doing an online lesson at the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe learning center in Port Angeles. Amanda Snyder / The Seattle Times Credit: Amanda Snyder / The Seattle Times
Nursing students at Sacred Heart University. The university has added certificate programs to teach people to be radiographers and CT, ultrasound, MRI and mammography technicians, who are in high demand. Yunuen Bonaparte for The Hechinger Report Credit: Yunuen Bonaparte for The Hechinger Report
After a day of teaching kindergarten, Shari Daniels encourages her athletes as they run drills during volleyball practice. Erik Petersen for The Hechinger Report Credit: Erik Petersen for The Hechinger Report
Ciera Pritchett and her children Isaiah, 10, and Genesis, 9. Home of Hope provides activities and programming for children while parents attend classes on financial literacy and independent living. Matt Odom/NBC Credit: Matt Odom/NBC
Faculty and supporters from universities around the state outside the Hilton C. Buley Library at Southern Connecticut State University protesting a contract proposal that includes an increase in teaching loads. Yunuen Bonaparte for The Hechinger Report Credit: Yunuen Bonaparte for The Hechinger Report
Freedom Brown-Faulk (white mask) is hugging Alyvia Davis in front of West Middle School on April 28. Credit: Kayana Szymczak for The Undefeated
Anne Fletcher, an adjunct professor in the English department at Austin Community College, works at her dining room table. During the pandemic she has had to be more persistent than ever about keeping in touch with her students. Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report Credit: Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report
Stephanie Presley, program lead for the Seward-Bear Creek Flood Service Area, points at a map of Seward and the location of Seward’s schools, which sit near Japanese Creek in Seward, Alaska. Young Kim for The Hechinger Report Credit: Young Kim for The Hechinger Report
Alex Harris is among the millions of students who can’t obtain their academic transcripts from colleges to which they still owe money — making it harder for them to get the jobs they need to pay it back. “It’s crazy,” Harris says. Meredith Nierman/GBH News Credit: Meredith Nierman/GBH News
Eighteen-year-old Nyché Andrew sits with other members of the class of 2021 at her socially distanced, outdoor graduation in Anchorage. Brian Adams for The Hechinger Report Credit: Brian Adams for The Hechinger Report
Bilingual teacher Veronica Alvarado leans over Ayden Nava Zamora, 6, to help him print out the names of sea animals, like dolphin, in Spanish (delfín), during a dual-language summer program at Lot Whitcomb Elementary School in Milwaukie, Ore. Lillian Mongeau/The Hechinger Report Credit: Lillian Mongeau/The Hechinger Report
For Maggie Anderson, a part-time job teaching Spanish at central Montana’s Greenfield School blossomed into a full-time post as a grade 6 teacher. But even obtaining a provisional license proved significantly challenging, resulting in an accreditation deficiency for Greenfield in 2020. Erik Petersen for The Hechinger Report Credit: Erik Petersen for The Hechinger Report
All of Lincoln Park School’s buses are outfitted with infant car seats so that girls can get to school with their babies, who attend the school’s free daycare. Emily Kaplan for The Hechinger Report Credit: Emily Kaplan for The Hechinger Report
One of Sadie Perry’s grandsons stands in front of a utility pole that reaches only one of the houses on their property, though not Perry’s home; an additional pole would cost the family $5,000. Kelli Johansen for The Hechinger Report Credit: Kelli Johansen for The Hechinger Report
Katie Humphrey, the seventh grade counselor at Columbia Middle School, tries to normalize the idea of asking for mental health support to both children and parents. “I tell our students, it’s like tutoring,” she says. “If you need help in math, you go get a tutor. You go to your teacher for help. We’re kind of your tutors for mental health.” Sara Hertwig for The Hechinger Report Credit: Sara Hertwig for The Hechinger Report
Increased absences and substitute shortages meant administrators often filled in to teach classes or cover recess duty during the 2020-21 school year. Cheryl Gerber for The Hechinger Report Credit: Cheryl Gerber for The Hechinger Report
Monalie Bohannon’s mother tries on a shawl that is a family heirloom before her daughter’s graduation from Hamilton High School. Shae Hammond for The Hechinger Report Credit: Shae Hammond for The Hechinger Report
On a sticky 86-degree June day in Detroit, Maybury Elementary School’s sunbaked windows stand open in the occupied classrooms in the non-air-conditioned building. The 112-year-old school hasn’t been renovated in generations, and, according to district estimates, will require $5.6 million in restoration. Elaine Cromie for The Hechinger Report Credit: Elaine Cromie for The Hechinger Report
Cante Skuya Lonehill-Stover, who is Oglala Lakota, compares photos of herself and her father as they each headed off to college. Arlo Iron Cloud for The Hechinger Report Credit: Arlo Iron Cloud for The Hechinger Report
Cpl. Israel Vicencio, Air Force Reserve medical technician Joy Maina and Danbi Kim work together in a lab for chemistry class at Pierce College at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The military has restricted or attempted to reduce funding for education for active-duty service members. Katie G. Cotterill for The Hechinger Report Credit: . Katie G. Cotterill for The Hechinger Report
Amanda Belony of Brooklyn, N.Y., was sued by the state attorney general’s office for $3,705 for classes she said she never took; traveling to Albany to appear in court would have been expensive and, she feared, could have jeopardized her job. Without a degree, she had to work low-wage jobs to pay off the settlement of $2,900, which she was finally able to do in 2019. Thalia Juarez for The New York Times Credit: Thalia Juarez for The New York Times
Contreras with children in Gummy Bears’ new location. Noah Willman for The Hechinger Report Credit: Noah Willman for The Hechinger Report
Teacher Hope Bell leads her class of 3-year-olds in a breathing exercise at the beginning of circle time. Bell uses an approach called Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) to build trust-based relationships with children, which can help mitigate the impact of trauma. Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report Credit: Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report
Nikki Musser, an education assistant, monitors first graders attending class at Witch Hazel Elementary remotely. The school operated on a hybrid schedule last year. “Everyone here is just trying to do the best they can,” she said. Lillian Mongeau for The Hechinger Report Credit: Lillian Mongeau for The Hechinger Report
Sheila Matthews, the operations director at Open Door Preschools, plays with Kennedy Garris, an infant, on the playground at one of the school’s locations in Austin, Texas. “It’s really said that it took the pandemic to make them go ‘oh yeah, we do need those teachers and they’re professionals, they’re just not babysitters,’” Matthews said. Jackie Mader for The Hechinger Report Credit: Jackie Mader for The Hechinger Report
Adamalis Vigil, 33, watches as her daughter Adelyn, 13, prepares for her birthday party. As a parent, feeling like she cannot protect her child from anti-trans laws and rhetoric is “the worst feeling ever,” Vigil said. Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Hechinger Report Credit: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Hechinger Report
Students practice reading using whisper phones during center time in their first grade classroom. Jackie Mader/ The Hechinger Report Credit: Jackie Mader/ The Hechinger Report
Taos Municipal Schools collaborated with community partners, like Prisca Winslow, who led a movement group, to offer a range of sessions focused on developing staff members’ social-emotional learning. Kelli Johansen for The Hechinger Report Credit: Kelli Johansen for The Hechinger Report
Students and staff share space in the Roux Institute in Portland, Maine, one of several largely unnoticed new higher education institutions popping up around the country. Molly Haley for The Hechinger Report Credit: Molly Haley for The Hechinger Report
Amanda Amtmanis, the PE instructor at Macdonough Elementary, hands a fifth grader a card with a QR code for tracking her mileage. Yunuen Bonaparte for The Hechinger Report Credit: Yunuen Bonaparte for The Hechinger Report
Instructor Penni Barbeau of Southern Maine Community College teaches Vanessa Moody how to weld, one of the skills she’s learning in the hope of getting a job with good pay, benefits and a pension at the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipyard. Molly Haley for The Hechinger Report Credit: Molly Haley for The Hechinger Report
Ernesto Rubio waits for a bus on his way home from Rio Hondo College. Without the free bus pass the college provided this fall, he says, he wouldn’t have been able to continue his education. James Bernal for The Hechinger Report Credit: James Bernal for The Hechinger Report
Therese Arvisu, an English teacher in the Phoenix Union High School district, leads a Chicano literature class she developed with fellow teachers. “That was the first time, in a professional setting, where we were able to talk about the literature that we grew up with, that had a lot to do with our identity and our love of literature,” she recalled. Brandon Sullivan for The Hechinger Report Credit: Brandon Sullivan for The Hechinger Report
Erica Cisneros’ child care program in Pueblo, Colorado. For more than a decade, Cisneros only made enough money to cover her basic needs. Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report Credit: Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report
Lisa Grant, superintendent for the Centralia school district, makes her monthly rounds in a fifth grade class at Fords Prairie Elementary School. The school district welcomed all elementary students back for in-person learning in early December. Katie Cotterill for The Hechinger Report Credit: Katie Cotterill for The Hechinger Report
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