The pandemic spared no institution in 2020, schools included.

K-12 schools were forced to close their doors in mid-March and offer remote learning — a foreign concept for many — and colleges and universities soon followed suit and moved online for the rest of the semester.

As 2020 ends, hybrid learning has become part of the “new normal,” and many in the education field are feeling hopeful looking toward the future in 2021.

Kankakee Community College President Michael Boyd said the community will need to do a lot of healing in 2021, and KCC has a critical role in this process.

He recalled coming out of the Great Recession in 2009 and 2010 when KCC saw its highest number of students enrolled.

“We know that during a challenging time in a local economy, it’s the community college where people will go to get their training, get their workforce education they need to re-enter the job market,” Boyd said. “We need to be at our strongest when our community needs us the most.”

Boyd said the prospect of providing COVID-19 vaccinations for college employees in the near future brings optimism for the new year.

“I think as more and more people receive a vaccination, there’s going to be more and more willingness to do it, and our hope is that people will choose that,” he said.

Kankakee Superintendent Genevra Walters said the vaccine is giving people hope they are nearing the end of the pandemic, rather than stuck somewhere in the middle.

“There will be a little bit more time, but at the end of 2021, I think we will be more comfortable in terms of the ‘new norm’ than we are now,” she said.

Despite moving back in the direction of normalcy, Walters believes education will never be the same. The pandemic has made inequities transparent, such as the lack of resources and technology in some districts.

“I see the pandemic as teaching us a lot about our families, about education, about our students, about the need to be more flexible,” Walters said. “I think it’s taught us a lot; the question is: Are we going to learn from it?”

Walters said going forward schools should provide flexible learning opportunities based on students’ needs, whether that is a remote, hybrid or in-person environment.

“In the traditional system, everyone got the same thing. I think what we’ve learned from this pandemic is everybody is going to react differently to different situations.”

Bourbonnais Superintendent Adam Ehrman also has a positive outlook for education in the new year. Looking ahead, educators must be willing to adapt and turn challenges into opportunities, he said.

“I thought I had seen almost anything that could be thrown at a superintendent,” he said. “I’ve been a superintendent for over a decade, and then March hit in 2020, and I realized I hadn’t seen everything. That was a pretty good lesson to learn.”

Ehrman recalled that around this time last year, he was thinking about snow days. Now, with remote learning options, it’s not nearly as big a consideration.

“My outlook for 2021 is hope. I think that it’s probably going to ring a bell in everybody’s mindset that they are excited to see 2020 go away to look towards 2021.”

Hamim Lillard, community outreach specialist with the Kankakee County State’s Attorney’s Office who specializes in working with at-risk youth in local schools, said he is looking forward to the new year as well.

Lillard started in the newly created position in late summer. His objectives include working to intervene with youth before they enter the criminal justice system.

“The only thing we can do is pray that COVID goes away and that we can get even more active,” he said.

Lillard said he has already received a few applications for one of the office’s newer initiatives, I Can Go to College, which aims to help kids realize their potential and attain financial help for college.

“I’m excited about that,” he said. “I’ll be really excited when we can get like 20 [applicants] and take it from there.”

Lillard said he is planning to expand in 2021. Some new events might focus on teen dating violence and bullying, for example.

“We already have a game plan that comes the first week of January,” Lillard said. “We’re not going to let COVID stop us.”

Reporter

Stephanie Markham joined the Daily Journal in February 2020 as the education reporter. She focuses on school boards as well as happenings and trends in local schools.