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Poverty & Equity Thought Leader Uncategorized

Back to School…bridging the gap!

By S. Kelley Henderson, Chief Executive Officer, Action Ministries

Summer 2019 is almost over for Georgia’s kids, with most returning to the classroom over the next couple of weeks. For children living in poverty, “catching up” becomes the first task for teachers.  In my June 18th article entitled “Summer Slide,” the faucet analogy was used to highlight how access to information can have a major impact on retention and performance during the summer months. As kids return to school, what may be intended as refresher material can quickly become a stressful relearning experience.

How can we help these kids get back on track?

Studies show that parental engagement helps promote healthy learning, while improving proficiency in reading and math.  At the same time, parents from lower income households may not be as engaged in their child’s learning compared to higher income households. According to a national professional educator’s association, the ASCD, “low parental involvement is generally not an indicator of low interest, but rather of community barriers that prevent schools from effectively engaging parents” (ASCD, Road Tested, Sept 2014). These barriers often exist in the form of hourly shift work schedules, lack of access to basic computer and internet resources, and transportation to school events.

In our Smart Kid! After School programs, parents are invited to participate in a class one day each week. The class is geared toward improving family engagement with homework, reading, language, and school involvement. These programs incentivize parents to join PTAs, start home libraries, and make time for self-improvement. Student celebrations are also scheduled, usually involving a potluck; where students, parents, volunteer instructors, and teachers are invited to share a meal and celebrate accomplishments together. We have found that promoting “community” helps create important relationships that pay dividends in the classroom.

In addition to engagement, maintaining access to food and snack supplies during the school year is a continuing need. Although many of these kids have access to free breakfast and lunch at school, the weekends can be a difficult period of time. Partnering with schools to provide SuperPacks, our version of the weekend backpack meal program, we can bridge the need.  Each SuperPack, contains six meals and two snacks in kid friendly packaging.  According to one teacher partner, “this program helps kids be ready to learn on Monday morning.” SuperPacks are available free of charge to the school and families and sponsored by caring community members who ensure that childhood hunger is not a barrier to success.

Engagement requires listening to needs of families and taking action. None of this work is possible without volunteers from the community who serve as tutors, bus drivers, SuperPackers, and family sponsors.  Summer is over, and these kids are ready to learn…let’s make sure they have every opportunity to succeed in the coming school year!

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