The Lost Year: Stories of School During a Pandemic

We spent time talking to public school students and educators in and around New Orleans about their experiences going to school during a pandemic. This is what we heard.

Lede New Orleans
4 min readOct 4, 2021

Thousands of K-12 students and educators in New Orleans and nationwide were forced to adapt as schools shut down and instruction shifted online in March 2020 amid skyrocketing cases of the COVID-19 virus. Local students returned to in-person class in August 2021, but challenges remain. Amid ongoing COVID-19 concerns, Hurricane Ida displaced many families in and around New Orleans in September 2021, just a few weeks into the 2021–2022 school year.

The pandemic’s impact on students has mostly been measured in terms of academic achievement. Standardized test scores among Louisiana public school students plunged this spring compared with 2019, according to state test scores released in August. Other states experienced similar drops. But there’s far less data on how the pandemic —and Hurricane Ida disruptions— has affected the mental and emotional health of New Orleans students, who have spent much of the past year navigating school from behind computer screens and face masks.

Clockwise, from top left: student Djuané Taylor; student Boris Alarcon; educator Lori Ivory; educator Samantha King; student Jordan Colin; educator Amber Powell; and educator Sydney Aponte, all shared their stories about school during a pandemic. (Photos by Lede New Orleans Community Reporting Fellows)

How has more than a year of pandemic uncertainty shaped the lives of local students and educators? Our community reporting fellows spent the spring asking that question and gathering stories from local students and educators who were returning to in-person school after months of online or hybrid learning. The result is The Lost Year, a multimedia series documenting the pandemic experiences of local public school students and educators.

Fellows worked together to interview community members, shoot and edit video, and write profiles for this series. They heard stories of fear and isolation, as well as connection and self exploration. Click the links below to read and watch their original storytelling.

The Music Goes On

By Matt Valerio | A young musician in Algiers practices jazz trumpet in the solitude of his bedroom as pandemic safety measures quiet the city’s music classrooms. Read | Watch

Preparing For College In a Pandemic

By Dariel Duarte | A high school senior in Metairie navigates working through online school in his second language and his college dreams. Read | Watch

Focusing On Yourself

By Mally Welch | A high school student in New Orleans works through pandemic isolation to create art and pursue mental health. Read | Watch

A New Language

By Trevon Cole | A first-grade teacher draws from TikTok and poetry to encourage and inspire students during online learning. Read | Watch

Schools As Centers of Care

By Autumn Jemison | A school social worker explains why pandemic services like food distribution and family check-in calls must be the new normal. Read

Staying Safe

By Nikka Troy | A special education teacher in Harvey struggles to protect her young daughter and serve her students. Read | Watch

A Shift In Mindset

By Forest Gaines Jr. | An educator in New Orleans navigates new motherhood, teaching kindergarten and COVID-19. Read | Watch

Lede New Orleans is a nonprofit that trains emerging BIPOC and LGBTQ storytellers and equips them with skills and tools to tell the stories of communities in and around New Orleans that are often overlooked by the media. For more info on our mission and programs, visit

The Lost Year stories are available to republish under a Creative Commons license. Read Lede New Orleans’ publishing guidelines here.

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Lede New Orleans

Lede New Orleans equips creative professionals from underrepresented communities, age 18-25, with skills, tools and resources to transform local media.