Williamson Seeks Path Ahead for Inclusive Schooling
The lockdown of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed the education system as schools were physically closed and switched to online learning, some for more than a year.
Special education, which often relies on individualized personal learning for social interactions and important life skills, came to a standstill when the children had to go home.
“Children were left behind when the pandemic started and continued,” said Madison Williamson, a senior at Carnegie Mellon University. In Pennsylvania, about 18% of K-12 students are enrolled in special education, and about 21% of them are enrolled in Pittsburgh Public Schools. These learners no longer had access to individual support for autism, hearing disabilities, intellectual disabilities, specific learning disabilities, and other needs.
Williamson, who is a psychology student, plans to measure the impact of the pandemic on K-12 special education. By interviewing parents, teachers and administrators in the Pittsburgh area, she aims to identify gaps in the learning experiences of students who have access to special education services so that the knowledge can be used to create more appropriate learning opportunities in the future.
“I’ve thought a lot about how children who need shelter have difficulty studying at home,” said Williamson.
A friend in high school with Down syndrome gave Williamson some insight. His family arranged for domestic help to work with him with schoolwork, but opportunities for social development and learning important life skills were not available. His job preparation program, a part-time cleaning job at a local hospital, fizzled out.
“He’s experienced some level of confusion during the pandemic without really knowing what’s going on but just knowing that he’s unable to do the things he wants to do,” Williamson said.
Studies have shown that during the pandemic, learning was difficult for all students due to inconsistencies in the classroom, distractions at home, and a lack of social support. Williamson noted that the current research examines data from Spring 2020 and does not focus on atypical learners.
“There may have been large learning gaps. As we transition out of the pandemic, steps should be taken to address those gaps, ”Williamson said.
She will continue her work throughout the school year. Your research is funded by the Dietrich Honors Fellowship Program. In interviews she conducted last summer, Williamson said she already saw major differences in the preparation of private schools compared to public schools, some of which had no infrastructure to offer online education for several months.
“[By comparison] a private school set up an online school environment in two weeks, ”said Williamson.
Anna Fisher, Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the CMU’s Summer Program for Undergraduate Researchers, and Sharon Carver, Deputy Dean of Education at Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and Director of the Children’s School, advised Williamson on the project.
“Research experience is of course important for undergraduate students, but research experience can be beneficial for all students regardless of their future career plans,” said Fisher. “Understanding how research is conducted, how data is analyzed, how results are interpreted, and how results are communicated to the wider community are important in making decisions about many aspects of our lives – from insights to vaccinations to insights about reading programs many other aspects of our life. “
Williamson’s research experience was an integral part of her undergraduate degree. It started out as an indecisive major.
“I chose the CMU because it is strong in many different areas. There were so many opportunities and the CMU provided an environment that would be academically challenging for me, ”said Williamson.
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