President Biden traveled to Philadelphia Friday, where he toured Luis Munoz Marin Elementary School and spoke with students, one of whom expressed gratitude for the return of in-person learning and physical interaction with her friends.
"I want to say thank you to you for letting us go back to school because in computer it was hard to learn about stuff," the student told Biden. "And in person you can see our friends and hug them and can learn more in person."
"Makes a big difference between being in school and on a computer, doesn't it?" Biden responded.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, several experts warned of the negative impact of virtual learning and school closures on children's mental health.
A familiar face in attendance for Biden's visit at the school included American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who called for "universal masking" in schools and later failed to wear one herself while delivering a speech at a conference amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Weingarten has faced criticism from the media and parents across the country.
Biden's stop at the majority-Hispanic elementary school in North Philadelphia, according to White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates, was to "highlight how the American Rescue Plan is delivering critical resources to keep schools safe and open, combat learning loss and address student mental health."
Biden's American Rescue Plan COVID-19 relief package allocated $122 billion toward helping K-12 public schools deal with the coronavirus pandemic, yet many schools still took precautions and kept remote learning in place for some time afterward.
Dr. Jennifer Reesman, a neuropsychologist who works with children, spoke with Fox News last December about the importance of schools reopening for in-person learning.
"Virtual instruction is not the same as quality, in-person education, and it's especially not accessible for many students with disabilities," Reesman said. "We need our schools to be open. Public school is a public good, and as mental health professionals, we can tell you that open public schools are a safety net."
Students are faring worse academically after more than two years of the pandemic and related learning complications, according to a July study from NWEA, a research nonprofit. The report found that students were struggling more academically "by the end of the 2020-21 school year compared to what we first reported in the fall."
While students' reading comprehension improved slightly at the beginning of COVID-19, it declined into 2021. Students' math proficiency has been decreasing since 2020; NWEA found that "math achievement fell even further behind historical trends – the difference of 5 to 10 percentile points in the fall of 2020 widened to a difference of 8 to 12 percentile points in spring of 2021."
The pandemic also exacerbated inequalities among minority students, who were "less likely to be learning in person and more likely to encounter obstacles in accessing instruction compared to White students," according to NWEA.
Biden's comments to the elementary school staff and children came after he delivered remarks at the House Democratic Caucus's annual issues conference in Philadelphia.
Fox News' Audrey Conklin contributed to this article.