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  • This Podcast Will Kill You, COVID-19, Chapter 10:Schools
  • Catherine Rita (bio)

A recent podcast, hosted by Drs. Erin Welsh and Erin Allman Updyke, examines the impacts of COVID-19 on students and schools in the United States. The hosts of the series, This Podcast Will Kill You, are disease ecologists and epidemiologists who typically focus their podcasts on the biology and history of various diseases. For this podcast, COVID 19, Chapter 10: Schools, they focused on how learning has taken place during the pandemic and what the future holds for the public school system in the United States.

In response to the rapid changes that occurred during the pandemic, a podcast offers an easily accessible medium through which to communicate about relevant issues, such as the impacts of COVID-19. The hosts reveal that they had received first-hand accounts from listeners who wished to share their experiences about the difficulties they faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. The hosts then selected three contributions to share at the start of the podcast. The contributions are from Vanessa, a 7th-grade language teacher at a middle school outside of Seattle; Natalia, a 16-year-old high school student; and a second-year science teacher in regional Victoria, Australia (teacher's name not disclosed). Each speaker provides their experiences as a teacher or student during the pandemic. The inclusion of real-life experiences is a fantastic way to offer listeners the opportunity to hear the perspectives of a range of people who have experienced disruption to their lives during the pandemic. Natalia's reflection is of special interest, as podcast listeners are invited to hear about her fears and anxieties as a high school student while faced with school closures during the pandemic in 2020. The inclusion of more first-hand accounts from children and youth in the podcast would have been welcome, as there have been limited opportunities to hear their voices.

After the hosts share the experiences of the selected contributors, the hosts introduce two guest speakers to discuss the impacts of the pandemic on children in schools. The invited guests are Dr. Jack Schneider, Assistant Professor in Education at the University of Massachusetts, and Jennifer Berkshire, who is a writer on education issues. The podcast follows an interview format where the hosts ask the invited guests questions. The interview questions are centered on comparisons to historical school closures during previous pandemics, defining the role of schools, and the trajectory for the reopening of schools. During the interviews, the hosts and guests discuss the ways in which activism prior to the pandemic was working towards narrowing the gap between wealthy and poor districts in the United States; [End Page 220] however, the COVID-19 pandemic has put the narrowing of this gap at risk. Dr. Schneider reveals that there have been previous efforts to make changes to the school system, such as moving kids from physical classrooms to online learning formats or increasing class sizes, both of which help to reduce the cost of running schools. In the interview, the guests propose that the pandemic has exposed the possibilities for schools to reduce costs through more online learning. In consideration of the points made by the hosts and guests in the podcast, an important question looms in the interview: At what costs are these changes made? The answer throughout the podcast highlights the costs for students, both academically and socially, while being away from school.

The hosts conclude the podcast by offering an overview of the findings from the interviews. They recognize that historical reflection reveals the importance of closing schools to help stop the spread of diseases. They further suggest that the pandemic has highlighted the negative impacts of having a social welfare program offered in schools for students in the United States in contrast with other areas of the world that do not offer these programs. Specifically, the inequities found outside of schools have become more pronounced with school closures, as the support offered by schools to disadvantaged students during the pandemic was reduced significantly. Furthermore, the guests report that teachers have felt increased pressure to support students online by somehow replacing the loss of...