Combatting Learning Loss During a Pandemic
By Blythe Keeler Robinson, President and CEO, Sheltering Arms
It’s been a year like no other. In the midst of a global pandemic, child care centers and schools across the country shut their doors with three months left in the school year. Although everyone’s circumstance is different, families and educators alike have done their best to navigate this unprecedented time to keep children engaged through remote learning.
Now that summer is officially here, there is the added concern of the “summer slide,” an unsettling notion for many parents, especially those whose little ones are entering Kindergarten in the fall. According to a new study by EmpowerK12, metro Atlanta students have fallen behind in math and English since schools closed and lessons have moved online.
Parents are now trying to figure out what can be done to minimize the loss. Learning experts believe that one of the best things parents can do is engage with their children – in particular, helping them cultivate reading habits and asking questions before, during and after reading time. The reality for some, though, is that they are exhausted with demands from work, children and the overall weight of the pandemic. Many are still facing challenges that make learning support next to impossible. There are households that still do not have access to the internet or devices for children to view and participate in online activities. Some working parents simply can’t provide the time or guidance needed. And there is a population of parents who are just trying get through this very difficult time, and learning loss is not top of mind.
Childcare centers and schools are doing what they can to use summer months to make up for lost time. Sheltering Arms reopened our doors on June 22 to welcome children back. In addition to our summer enrichment program, we offer a summer transition program, funded through the Department of Early Care and Learning, to help children prepare for Kindergarten. Other organizations in the city have programs in place that can curb learning loss: the Atlanta Summer Program Leaders Collective offers virtual STEAM and literacy camps for children as young as Pre-K; United Way’s Learning Spaces offers a plethora of short video lessons online for children up to age five; and the Atlanta Speech School provides free video-based lessons through Cox Campus.
Experts say it is difficult to predict how missing months of school could impact student achievement. In the fall, Sheltering Arms will be conducting a general observation to establish a baseline for COVID-related learning loss. However, the focus will be on assessing where our children are academically, socially and emotionally, finding out what their COVID experience has been, making sure they are psychologically safe with a ready-to-learn mind frame, and then, tailoring our early learning curriculum to meet them right where they are.
We all want to see our city’s children thrive, especially during these times. Knowledge is power. We can do our part to empower and support families by sharing information and connecting them to resources that could help them overcome some of their most urgent and overwhelming needs. This may be what frees them up so they can shift their focus to ways they can be more of a support for children at home. It takes a village…and it starts one step at a time.