A new chapter for education during a pandemic

This year, back to school is more complicated than ever. With schools opening nationwide at the same time as the Delta variant is causing a never-before-seen surge in Covid related hospitalizations among children, how students return to school remains a topic of debate even as students walk into classrooms. Today, we’re highlighting parents, students, and brands as they take on the unknowns and together write the book for the future of back to school.


Back to school shopping is still big business (over $37 billion big) but shopping, itself, continues to evolve. In pre-pandemic 2019, in-store spending held an edge (56%) over online spending. But in an ever increasing online world, in-store and online spending shares are converging. Brands are taking note and meeting consumers where they are at. Bed Bath & Beyond created digital Idea Boards, allowing students to pin their must-haves, and 100-year-old brand General Mills leans into digital shopping with new click-to-buy features on their online campaigns. Even Walmart went all out with an online omni-channel back to school celebration–including TikTok contests and live streaming of events across all of the brand’s social media platforms that features shoppable content coupled with live concerts.


Public schools and public school policies haven’t been this political since the desegregation era of the 1950s and 60s. Turmoil over students wearing masks is just the latest in this time of pandemic related educational disruption, leading some parents to seek alternative education opportunities for their children. With a record high of 11% of U.S. students enrolled in homeschool last year, startups such as KaiPod Learning are stepping up to transform education as more parents consider more personal and intentional outside-the-box learning.


In addition to new backpacks, many students will be going back to school with new perspectives, new identities, and new activist mindsets. Some students are trying to recapture some of the fun and excitement that the new school year can bring, including the return of School TikToks and how they intend to express themselves with their outfits. Distinctly, others are prepping for how the changes they’ve experienced during quarantine will affect their in-person school identities. Still others are standing up to dress codes that many see as sexist, racist, and classist. Expect students to have an even greater demand for spaces to be themselves, especially as they return to a more rigid post-pandemic school system that now feels more outdated than ever before.