Metro educators use summer programs to make up for learning loss students


“Can someone give me the definition of mental health?” Paulson Obiniyi asked the class of nearly a dozen seventh and eighth grade boys.

One of the students raised his hand impatiently and replied, “It’s like being sane.” The class chuckled at his response.

Obiniyi started writing the answer on the board. One of the students asked if Obiniyi was really going to accept this definition, to which he replied, “If you say it, I’ll write it down.” It may not be fair, but we’ll talk about it.

Middle school students were learning about physical and mental health as part of their science class at a summer program in the northeast DC neighborhood of Brookland through Youth Leadership Foundation. About 150 students enroll in the program each year. This year, the foundation was able to fully conduct its sessions with face-to-face students after two years of virtual and hybrid courses. With its doors reopened, the organization brought in students who were trying to catch up in school.

In the district, researchers found that students in grades three through eight fell behind in the first year of the pandemic by about five to six months in language arts and math, compared to results 2018-2019 tests, before the start of the pandemic. Montgomery County — Maryland’s largest school district, with about 160,000 students — also found learning gaps in a study released in the fall. Eighty-two percent of its second-grade students, for example, met literacy readiness measures in the 2018-19 school year. But at the start of the 2021-2022 school year, about 47.5% were complying with these measures. The numbers also fell for mathematics. In Virginia, 2020-21 results show that 69% of students passed their reading exams, 54% passed math, and 59% passed science. Those pass rates were down from the 2018-19 school year, when 78% of students passed in reading, 82% in math, and 81% in science. (The test was not given for the 2019-2020 school year.)

Scores were lower among the most vulnerable students in school districts.

Billions of dollars in federal pandemic relief funds have been allocated for education, some of which has gone to summer learning and enrichment programs organized by schools and other organisations. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics released this month shows that about 75% of public schools said in June they would offer summer programs, with 33% saying they had increased their summer learning efforts.

This year’s students need a summer school. Some districts cannot staff it.

“Because of covid, I haven’t learned as much as usual. I felt like I could have learned more, but it was hard to comprehend the fact that I couldn’t interact. I had to stay home, said Elijah Narce, an eighth-grader participating in the Youth Leadership Foundation summer program. “Usually I learn better when I’m not distracted, but when I’m at home I’m more distracted.”

Elijah had the hardest time remembering his math lessons, but this summer he said he felt like he was learning more. During the school year, he attends Dupont Park Adventist School, a private school in southeast DC.

Lolu Drummond, associate program director at the Youth Leadership Foundation, said that during the summer sessions, she noticed that students struggled the most in reading and math.

Instead of reading aloud when called or answering a math question, students fell silent and said nothing at all, she said. Instructors reviewed some key math skills, like division, because students said they didn’t know how to do it.

“We actually had to take the time to investigate, like, ‘Hey, what happened today? I noticed you weren’t participating. I noticed during that time that you were in somehow closed or [were] not responding,” Drummond said. “And that’s when he’ll come out that, like, ‘I’m not very good at reading. I’m too scared to read out loud.’

The Youth Leadership Foundation Summer Program teaches core curriculum — like math, English, science, and social studies — and extracurricular programs, like sports and character development over five weeks. Most students’ families find out about the program through word-of-mouth, as the foundation also has partnerships with schools for after-school programs. The program also offers one-on-one mentoring.

“Mentoring is the bread and butter of YLF,” said Janaiha Bennett, executive director of the foundation. “We realize the importance of the individual – that everyone’s story is different, everyone’s needs are different.”

For Kingston Kershaw, a fourth grader at Tyler Elementary in the district, he said he was thrilled to be back in class in person because he always loved learning. He felt trapped while virtually attending school because he could never go anywhere. Also, even though he loves his brother, the two sometimes get tired of each other, he said after his one-on-one mentoring session at one of the program’s campuses. summer of the Youth Leadership Foundation.

With the in-person classes, Kingston thinks he’s “improving a lot,” he said. During the summer program, he said he learned more about character — like the definition of “oneness” and why it matters. In his history class, he gained a better understanding of geography and discovered that his favorite continent is Africa. He also read more.

“I actually love doing math games and asking questions – it’s pretty fun for me,” Kingston said.

In Maryland, another summer program teaches principals and other administrators how to use an individualized approach to help students who are experiencing learning gaps. The school improvement summer institute guides school leaders on how to use the “science of improvement,” a framework for solving tough problems related to student achievement, Segun Eubanks said , director of the Center for Educational Innovation and Improvement at the University of Maryland, which is coordinate the meeting.

The goal is to help education leaders develop in three main areas: leadership, equity and improvement. The program also includes panels on how to be an effective superintendent and how to use the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a multi-billion dollar education plan to improve outcomes in schools across the state. Education officials were also invited from DC, Virginia and New Jersey.

As Maryland’s school systems reopened in 2021, they had an even tougher year than when learning online, Eubanks said. Principals became contact tracers to track coronavirus cases and had to figure out how to navigate the opening and closing of classrooms to curb the spread of the coronavirus. This year, the directors are also faced with unique staffing shortages. Additionally, a third of Maryland’s superintendents are new for the upcoming school year, according to the center.

“Schools are paying attention to this learning loss issue, but it’s not the first thing on the list,” Eubanks said. “The first thing on the list is just stabilization.”

Eubanks noted that federal pandemic relief funds that most schools allocate to after-school programs and other enrichment opportunities can help fill learning gaps students are experiencing. But most students spend most of their time in class with teachers. Sessions for administrators, scheduled for later this month, will help educators find day-to-day solutions to help a student with learning loss.

“Is the schedule different? Does it look at how we grade? Is it the actual pedagogical practice of teachers that needs to change? said Doug Anthony, senior scholar and director of doctoral programs in education at U-Md.

Back at the Youth Leadership Foundation, Obiniyi finished her lesson on physical and mental health. It was the group’s last science lesson with him during the summer.

He tried to keep all the lessons engaging by incorporating hands-on activities and linking them to students’ lives, he said in an interview. For this lesson on the importance of getting enough sleep, they all had to share at the beginning of class what they had eaten and how much they had slept the night before.

Obiniyi explained to them how sleeping for an appropriate amount of time can help their bodies recover and refresh for the next day. The students took notes on how they could have a healthier diet through small changes, such as replacing soft drinks with water. He handed out worksheets encouraging students to set their own goals for better sleep and better food — advice they’ll need in the next school year.

“You all taught me a lot over the summer,” Obiniyi said, ending the class.

Character and Mentorship Program Director Krista Keil asked each of the students what they learned from the lessons about physical and mental health. One of the students said it was important to keep track of his personal health. Another replied that they had learned to set goals.

One student joked, “Sleep is overrated.”

Another student replied, “I don’t think that’s what Mr. Paulson teaches.

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