(WXYZ) — While in-person learning is back at many schools in Michigan, COVID-19 continues to impact students. Absences due to illness or quarantines have created huge setbacks.
Last year McKinsey and Company researchers estimated that up to 4.6 million high schoolers have become chronically absent due to the pandemic. Schools are grappling with how to help them catch up academically.
One local student is proving that setbacks caused by the pandemic can be overcome.
"I want people to know. I have been through a lot," said Erica Brown, a North Lake High School student.
Erica is about to graduate from North Lake High, an alternative school in St. Clair Shores, a bit later than expected after she failed numerous classes. She says when people think about failing students, they often don’t think about why they are failing.
"After the death of my sister, I went into depression and so I stopped going to school," she said.
In 2018, a classmate at Warren Fitzgerald High School suddenly attacked her sister Danyna Gibson because they liked the same boy.
"During that time I thought there was no point in going to school because I thought I was never going to be happy again," said Erica.
Photo of Dayna Gibson
Erica stopped going to school right before the pandemic started, in tenth grade.
She is hearing impaired. As schools went virtual, she gave up on going back, knowing hearing would be an issue.
Her grandmother continued to encourage her, and eventually she was open to help and has thrived learning in the alternative high school's child care center.
"My family helped me. Talking to my therapist helped me a lot," said Erica.
"These kids in here, they give so tremendously. They all have a heart. They all care about their life after high school," said North Lake High School Principal Dr. Jeffrey Lip.
Dr. Lip says as we see an increase in academic failures due to the pandemic, we need to remember that the pandemic brought so much trauma. Students lost routines, relationships, support systems, and loved ones.
"Depression, anxiety, it is off the chain. It is so high," he said.
It is something we are seeing in schools around metro Detroit.
"We have seen a 500% growth in our summer program and most of that at our high school level is credit recovery," said Superintendent of Eastpointe Community Schools Dr. Ryan McLeod.
He says the pandemic continues to cause set backs forcing absences due to sicknesses or quarantines.
"And we are also looking at ways to create a path to graduation that have all the students meeting all the state requirements and most of the Ann Arbor public schools requirements," said Executive Director for High Schools in Ann Arbor Paul DeAngelis.
DeAngelis says schools are trying to be flexible on how they set students up for future success. They all want students struggling to know they are not alone. And there is help finding hope.
Erica says if she can do it, you can, too, a message she shares to honor her sister.
"My sister was amazing. She was smart. I know it is what she would want me to do. So I came back to graduate," said Erica.
She graduates next Friday. Her message: believe in yourself you are capable of amazing things.