By Carmen Callaway, DHS/DFCS Well-being Services Section Director and S. Michele Jacobs, Senior Director, Youth Development at United Way of Greater Atlanta
As school systems open for another year of educating students during a global pandemic, educators are expected to see more of the residual learning loss impact from the 2020/2021 school closures and remote learning. Research shows that “distance learning has caused a significant setback in achievement, particularly among Black and Hispanic youth and youth with disabilities.”
United Way’s College and Career Ready investment priority area focuses on strengthening academic support by investing in organizations that foster academic outcomes, plan for future careers and increase youth engagement in learning and social-emotional development all in effort to reduce learning loss. Learning loss refers to any specific or general loss of knowledge and skills or reversals in academic progress, most commonly due to extended gaps or discontinuances in a student’s education.
To address the issue in Georgia, legislators allocated $4.3 million in the FY22 budget directing the funds to the Georgia Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Division of Family & Children Services (DFCS). Over the past year, DFCS and the United Way of Greater Atlanta (UWGA) have worked to align efforts around child well-being and learning loss to create a competitive grant process, managed by UWGA, aimed at funding community-based organizations that serve students who were most negatively affected by the pandemic. To date, 126 organizations have submitted applications and just over 50% of the applicants are projected to receive funding.
“When we refer to learning loss, we are not just referring to lost academic learning opportunities, we also have to acknowledge the social and emotional development opportunities that didn’t occur because schools were closed,” said Carmen Callaway, DHS/DFCS Well-being Services Section Director. “We believe the grants will help students with additional learning supports to get back on track.”
The funding is focused on reducing learning loss through one of the following strategies. Applicants were asked to demonstrate their approach to addressing one or more of these areas:
- Building reading skills
- Improving math fluency
- Ensuring successful school transitions
- Strengthening family engagement
- Learning acceleration
- Providing access to quality out-of-school time programming
- Contextualizing learning
Organizations without access to other COVID-related learning loss funding were given priority as well as organizations not currently receiving DFCS Afterschool Care Program Funds or receiving state or federal funds to support learning loss. Additionally, five regions in south Georgia were identified as priority areas, as they have fewer resources to support learning loss programming and two preferences for program strategies were identified: 1) programs that promote two-generation outcomes, and 2) programs that support children and families securing basic needs.
Grants also could be used to support youth in secondary education to address barriers to learning that impact college and career readiness.
To learn about future opportunities to access learning loss grants, go to: https://www.unitedwayatlanta.org/.