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School administrator reflects on COVID's impact on the class of 2023

For graduating seniors, the pandemic hit during their freshman year.

WAUKEE, Iowa — From teachers to students, anyone who's been to class since March 2020 has had to deal with COVID-19.

But for the class of 2023, that connection is a little deeper, as the pandemic hit during their freshman year and turned their time at school upside-down.

"Kids were talking about 'What are we gonna do after spring break?' And I remember saying that we might miss a couple days, maybe a week after spring break at most. And then we lost nine weeks of school," said Cary Justmann, principal of Waukee High School.

Once students were able to get back to class, it wasn't quite what the return from break usually looked like.

"Everyone did school online, and you interacted with people through a computer screen. That was brand new to all of us, and it was very difficult and kind of a new way of learning," Justmann added.

And even though schools have been back to in-person learning for a while now, the impacts of COVID haven't gone away.

According to the Institute for Education Sciences, 87% of schools across the country reported that COVID has negatively impacted students' development.

Further, they found that 36% of students were behind their grade level pre-pandemic; beginning in 2021, that figure jumped as high as 50%. So for those seniors who are finally getting to cross the stage in person, the accomplishment is something to be especially proud of.

"This group of seniors has been through a lot to get to this point today ... and I think their resiliency has shown through, their perseverance has shown through, and I just couldn't be prouder of a group of kids," Justmann said.

The Iowa Department of Education says the class of 2022 had a graduation rate of 89.9%. The last time that figure dipped below 90% was in 2013.

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