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Back To School, Back In Person: Using Paper to Address Learning Loss, Academic Equity

Categories: Ideas and Innovation
paper helps address learning loss

Many parents around the United States are sending their children back to school soon — in person and full time. Students and teachers, who may not have seen one another in months, will face several challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic, such as learning loss and economic disparities. The good news? Paper can help.

Research is mixed on the effects of the pandemic on students, but in a poll of 1,000 public school educators conducted by the Horace Mann Educators Corporation, 97 percent of teachers reported seeing some learning loss in their students during the past year compared to previous years. Data from McKinsey in December 2020 noted that students of color were about three to five months behind in learning due to lower access to technology, the internet and in-person learning support.

Reading and math are two paper-intensive subjects that typically require access to textbooks, library books and/or notebook paper. Paper can help bridge the divide in learning achievement caused by the pandemic and related economic challenges.

Reading Printed Books Is Better

While reading on a digital screen is an option, reading printed books is better for learning comprehension, information retention and focus. That means printed books may help resolve learning loss more quickly than online texts.

“The format children read in can make a difference in terms of how they absorb information,” says Perri Klass, M.D., in the New York Times.

Two Sides North America recently shared findings from a U.S. poll of 1,000 parents of K-12 students conducted by the Book Manufacturers Institute (BMI). The poll results show that printed materials are essential to student learning. Dr. Naomi Baron, Professor Emerita of Linguistics at American University, wrote a supplemental white paper commissioned by BMI to summarize recent research around reading print, reading digital and the impact on learning.

She wrote, “An abundance of research now substantiates that yes, medium matters for learning. While both print and digital have roles to play, the evidence demonstrates the continuing importance of print for sustained, mindful reading, which is critical to the educational process.”

Cost of School Supplies Can Limit Academic Equity

The average American is expected to spend nearly $850 on back-to-school supplies for K-12 students in 2021, according to the National Retail Federation. The cost of school supplies, including paper products, can create limitations to student achievement, especially in lower-income communities. This has been especially evident during the pandemic, where a lack of school supplies led to learning loss for some students.

According to the Kids in Need Foundation, 90 percent of teachers say at least three out of four students arrive to class without the necessary supplies, and these students likely do not have the right supplies at home to do their schoolwork. Additionally, they report that having school supplies increases students’ confidence, improves their participation in class and gives them more opportunity.

That’s why Domtar sponsors school supply drives in multiple communities where our employees live and work. We have standing partnerships with organizations such as the Office Depot Start Proud!™ Program, which directly benefits students in low-income communities, and Classroom Central in Charlotte, N.C., which provides much-needed supplies to teachers, who often pay out of their own pockets for supplies for their classrooms and their students.

This year, through the Start Proud! Program, Domtar donated backpacks filled with school supplies to all students at John F. Long Elementary School in Phoenix, Ariz. The company will also donate backpacks to students at schools in Florida, Colorado, Texas, California, Michigan and North Carolina this year, and over the past several years, Domtar has donated more than $500,000 to the Start Proud! Program.

Additionally, our employees are participating in school supply donation drives at our Fort Mill headquarters and Nekoosa Mill that will benefit students most in need of free school supplies. Donations from Fort Mill employees go to Classroom Central, which supports nearly 200 schools across six school districts in the Charlotte Metro area, where one in two students comes to school empty-handed.

Three Ways You Can Help Address Learning Loss

  1. Check with your local schools or teachers. Many schools and teachers have Amazon Wish Lists set up to help supply their classrooms and students with needed items. Additionally, some school systems enlist volunteer tutors.
  2. Reach out to a local nonprofit organization that can connect you to your communities’ needs for supplies or tutoring, such as the United Way.
  3. Create some paper-based supply packs following the instructions from our friends at How Life Unfolds®.