The cover story: The educators who saved a pandemic school year

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The Cover Story
From Teachers to Custodians, Meet the Educators Who Saved a Pandemic School Year
By Andrea Delbanco
Editor in Chief, TIME for Kids

"This past year—I won't say this lightly—I really feel like teachers saved lives," said Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. He was talking to a 10-year-old TIME for Kids Kid Reporter named Bellen Woodard, in May. "This year, more than any other year, we need to—as a country—stand up and applaud our teachers for what they've done."

That's effectively the goal of this special package: to salute school employees who provided a crucial safety net for kids when COVID-19 closed schools in 2020. We tell the stories of educators, school administrators and staff who swung into action, modeling resourcefulness and resilience for students and their families. "Everyone was so inventive and creative in filling all of these needs," says editor Elizabeth Murray, who worked with Tina Susman, and many others in the TIME newsroom, to put these stories together.

Liz and Tina put out a call for submissions in April, seeking teachers and other school employees whose work made students' pandemic learning experience better.  The reference to other employees was critical. "This is not just teachers we are focusing on, and we were very deliberate in that decision," Tina says. "We didn't want to leave out the countless other K–12 educational workers who joined with teachers to make education possible." More than 185 submissions poured in, and reporters Jasmine Aguilera, Madeline Carlisle and Katie Reilly were tasked with following up with dozens of them as they narrowed down the list.

When TIME's project began, the U.S. was wrapping up a chaotic school year unlike any other. In subsequent months, optimism rose that it would be the last of its kind. Parents, myself included, began dreaming about full-time, in-person instruction—the new nirvana. Now, plans are already changing, and we're bracing for another year of uncertainty. But I know our students are in good hands. As Tina told me, "We have a lot of instructors saying things like 'We don't know what the coming year is going to bring, but we know that after last year, we'll be ready for anything.'"
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