Christian Education

Indianapolis summer program hopes to tackle COVID learning loss

Fourth-grader Safiya Armstead would rather be at the beach.

Instead, she attends a summer school where she learns to add multiple numbers and play fun new games. She was successful even when math hurt her brain.

“I keep working hard and moving forward,” said Safiya, 9.

Safiya and nearly 4,000 other Indianapolis students are enrolled in the five-week summer learning labs created to upgrade students after a year and a half of pandemic learning loss.

The new program is open to all students in grades 1 through 9 in Marion County, regardless of grade level, unlike some programs run separately by districts only for exceptional students. Mind Trust and United Way of Central Indiana have teamed up to run the program in community centers and schools, all using the same curriculum in English and math in the morning, followed by enrichment activities after. midday.

In schools, both academic instruction and enrichment are provided in person. In community centers, the academic part is managed virtually.

Brandon Brown, chief executive of The Mind Trust, said the idea for the learning labs came from conversations with families and schools throughout the pandemic.

“It was clear that there were a lot of missed learning opportunities,” Brown said. “It was difficult for schools to navigate everything with COVID and plan something over the summer as well. ”

Brown pointed to the ILEARN 2021 results confirming what students have lost over the past year and a half. Only 28.6% of Indiana students passed both English and math. In Marion County, 15.9% passed English and math tests.

Across the 39 locations, around 200 teachers use a curriculum provided by Lavinia Group, a six-year company founded by a former CEO of Success Academy, New York’s largest and most controversial charter network.

Teachers completed three days of training prior to the start of the program and received professional development each week.

During training sessions, teachers bring in student work to analyze and determine which small groups are needed and what supports to provide. While the program material is standardized nationally, school leaders modify lessons to suit their students’ needs, said Jackie Taslim, program manager for Lavinia Group. The company, she said, provides very detailed lesson plans and advice to teachers.

Taslim said teachers are developing a roadmap for students, trying to anticipate student questions and determine how students will arrive at their answers.

“The more intellectually prepared you are as a teacher, it frees you up so that you can really listen to the kids and adapt and navigate the moment so that you are really listening to the students,” Taslim said.

After reviewing the results of the ILEARN tests, Tia Taylor, deputy principal of the PATH school that runs the summer lab on her campus, said she and her staff have a lot of work to do.

Only 2.4% of students passed the ELA and Math ILEARN tests.

Last month, when all 88 students in the school’s program took Lavinia’s screening assessment, scores showed the students were either significantly below or “right on the bubble,” Taylor said.

This week, the last week of the program, students take post-assessments.

She has her fingers crossed for growth, not necessarily just skill.

“If they’ve mastered a standard, it’s a celebration,” Taylor said. “Especially when we think of the learning loss and where we serve.”

She saw improvement even though teachers and students at her school found the lessons difficult. She said it’s important to give children high expectations and the space to get to where they need to be. Like Brown, she believes in speeding up, not just correcting, students by teaching them grade-level content, no matter how difficult it may seem. She thinks that focusing only on remediation is a mistake many schools make.

“I firmly believe that if you never teach at the top, you will never get there,” Taylor said. “Our children need it. We give them the opportunity and leave them the space to make it happen.

After the summer labs have ended and the school year begins, teachers will receive data on their students. From there, teachers could form small groups and plan interventions from day one.

She said that to fill the gaps, her school will have more response staff this year.

“I think intentionality will be key and the way we use our response staff,” Taylor said. “It’s about how you use and allocate these resources to make sure that children compensate for some of this learning loss according to their needs. ”

After a morning of teaching every day, students participate in a range of activities such as digital portfolio projects, documentary film making and fashion design in the afternoon.

The Mind Trust and United Way of Central Indiana made a joint investment of $ 500,000 to launch the initiative.

In June, the Indiana Department of Education announced that United Way of Central Indiana would receive more than $ 11 million from the state’s $ 122 million Student Learning Recovery Grant Program for its partnership with The Mind Trust. . This was the highest grant amount of all applicants.

Students at community centers like the Edna Martin Christian Center on Ralston Avenue come from different school districts like Indianapolis, Pike and Warren Public Schools as well as some charter schools like KIPP.

Ashley Moore, youth program coordinator at the Edna Martin Christian Center, said about 40 students attend the center’s lab. She said it’s important to have the summer learning lab so students can catch up, especially after a year and a half of going back and forth between in-person, virtual, and blended learning.

“Because they can practice these skills during the summer, it won’t be a complete shock when they have to get back into school,” Moore said. “A lot of our students have struggled. Now they are able to come back in person and start to re-acclimate to that setting. ”

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