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Summer Break, COVID-19 Shutdown Could Wipe Out School Year Gains

OGDEN, Utah – When the front door opened, a big smile welcomed the two educators from Bonneville Elementary on the porch making surprise house calls.

Tia Paxton and AnaRosa Saldivar wanted to check on a few kids who they were worried about and hadn’t seen since COVID-19 shut down school.

“A lot of kids felt like they’ve been bottled up and it’s concerning that they’ve been so isolated,” said Saldivar.

“Looking at kids that need a little support, feeling down and out and not feeling that connection, and so it was cute to see their faces, added Paxton.

Home visits is just one way that Ogden schools are trying to use their “summer bridge” program to fill the gap created by the pandemic.

Educators have long battled the “summer slide” as a time when students lose academic gains. Now new research from the Northwest Education Association shows COVID-19 could turn the slide into a slump.

Projections by NWEA, an Oregon-based education research organization, show students nationwide could return to the fall having lost up to 50% of their academic gains, especially in math.

Learning losses will likely be greater for low-income students who lack access to technology.

“Coming back we have several concerns. What do we need to do to catch kids up on academic and social and emotional learning skills,” said Principal Shauntelle Cota, of Bonneville Elementary.

Bonneville and other schools in the Ogden school district are offering robust summer school programs. They are incorporating learning activities to summer feeding programs. And they are dispatching school counselors and behavior interventionists into the neighborhoods to see how kids are doing.

Ogden District Superintendent Rich Nye knows they can’t afford to wait until school starts to address these issues.

“If we wait until fall, it’s too late,” said Nye. “We cannot buy time. During the summer, they have time.

The NWEA study concludes two things need to happen this summer to help students.

First, schools and parents need to support students, especially in math. And second, schools need data to find out where kids stand academically.

“One of the impacts of covid is we didn’t get final data points,” said Cota.

Since year-end assessments were cancelled, Cota is trying to get some of that data in summer programs. And she will work with teachers when they start school to help kids catch up. She says many fourth grade teachers, for example, will be reviewing third grade material.

Schools know they will have a huge task ahead, but Cota and her team are looking at the positive. They are hopeful school will resume, at least partially, in-person and they can see their beloved students for real, instead of virtually.

“Yes, the show must go on and we’ll meet the students where they need to be met,” said Cota.

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