Pre-pandemic research shows that the average American student loses about one month of learning in math and reading each summer. According to the National Summer Learning Association, students from low-income families lose up to twice that amount.
This learning loss, also known as the “summer slide,” prompts teachers to spend the first few weeks of each school year re-teaching material taught during the previous spring. Over time, that learning loss accumulates, contributing to the achievement gap between youth from low- and high-income families.
Given those trends, it’s not surprising to see the phrase “COVID slide” making its way around the educational sector. By the time the 2020-21 academic year kicks off, students will have gone months without face-to-face learning with varying levels of access to Internet, resources and support.
According to estimates from the Northwest Evaluation Association, or NEWA, a non-profit organization that creates education assessments, students could return this fall with roughly 70 percent of the learning gains in reading compared to a typical school year. When it comes to math, they could return with less than 50 percent of learning gains and in some grades, “nearly a full year behind what we would observe in normal conditions.”
These numbers may sound disheartening, but I prefer to look at them as a call to action. What can we do now that will better position our students this August and September? What programs or resources can we provide to prevent that learning loss? How do we make learning gains achievable?
In Flint, the answers to these questions, in part, are strong partnerships. Starting in late June and early July, YouthQuest—an afterschool and summer enrichment program provided through the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce—will team up with the Flint Community Education Initiative, Flint Community Schools and International Academy of Flint to provide robust learning opportunities over the course of four weeks.
We won’t be asking you to sit your student in front of a computer for hours on end. Rather, we will be providing families with activity kits and materials that will be complemented by a reasonable amount of screen time.
Additionally, in July, the Flint & Genesee Chamber will bring back the TeenQuest pre-employment and leadership training program. The summer program is open to all students entering grades 10-12 in Genesee County—regardless of whether they attend public, private, charter, alternative or home school. It teaches important soft skills and prepares them to take the next step—interviewing with local employers during the 2021 Summer Youth Initiative Job Fair.
At first glance, it may seem unusual that a chamber of commerce is so interested in K-12 education. In reality, it’s a critical part of the work we do. We’re committed to the prosperity of this community and quality of life plays a major factor in that. So does the capacity of our future workforce. In the end, prioritizing summer learning is paramount to our success.
Kristina Johnston in the COO of the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce.