The past year and a half has surely taken a heavy toll on our children and youth. Public schools shut down abruptly after Spring Break 2020 and worked to transition fully to a virtual setting.
Although students everywhere in America saw their school days upended by the Coronavirus pandemic, the switch to virtual school created new challenges for working-class families who relied on our public schools to not only provide an education, but also daily meals and structure for their children.
Virtual learning created new challenges for academic performance, attendance, active participation, and social interaction. Youth were coping with illness, grief, family obligations, uncertainty, and racial injustice, without the traditional outlets that we usually find outside the home.
Now that initial assessments are in, it is no surprise that students of color, especially students from lower income backgrounds, have suffered most during this pandemic.
According to a report from NWEA, a nonprofit organization that measures the growth and performance of students from grades pre-K to 12, for those in schools that serve low-income populations, the situation was more concerning – with marginalized students falling further behind in reading and math, without the access to the resources they needed. Researchers have labeled the widening gap in academic achievement during the pandemic as the “COVID-19 Slide.”
Broward County Public Schools identified more than 60,000 in December 2020 who are at risk of falling behind for not meeting academic progress metrics and were struggling academically, emotionally, and socially.
Reports show that Black and Latinx students have experienced the largest decline in academic performance. The district has implemented a voluntary summer school program that starts towards the end of June to help students who have fallen behind academically, and so far, more than 35,000 students have signed up.
At the Urban League of Broward County, we have thought long and hard about student achievement and ways that community-based organizations can better align with the public school system. We have seen the importance of keeping our youth engaged. We have charged ourselves with creating a sense of normalcy for the students we serve.
The Urban League’s Summer Enrichment Programs will work, in alignment with the district, to ensure that students we serve will be able, at minimum, to get back on grade level.
Our programs will focus on educational development and social experiences, bringing students together in a safe and effective way. Nonprofit community organizations need to be active partners with schools and families to ensure our students are able to succeed, despite the slide caused by the pandemic.
The Baughtomline is This: Even in the midst of COVID-19, we are tasked with building resilience within our communities and ensuring that students of color do not fall further behind. It takes a village — our students, parents, educators, and faith and community leaders — to close the achievement gap exacerbated by COVID-19 and get our students back on track.