Rise Amid the Slide
A Discussion About COVID, Education & Our Kids
Summertime signals fun, relaxation, and freedom from daily school routines. However, when school isn’t in session, a decline in reading and math skills can occur as academics take a back seat to adventure, this is known as the “summer slide.”
As COVID-19 spread across the globe in the spring of 2020, education researchers predicted severe learning loss they named, “Covid Slide.” Covid Slide is akin to the summer slide, both describing learning loss due to time out of school, but the covid slide is longer with a more severe academic decline. Some students may end up an entire year behind where they would have been academically, absent COVID-19. A global education non-profit, Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), predicted that students would retain 70% of what they learned in reading during 2020 prior to closures and 50% of what they learned in math.
The Covid Slide is more than academics. Students experienced emotional and mental health challenges due to limited social engagement. The greatest impact will be felt by students who may have already been one or more grade levels behind and who, outside of school, face inequities on an everyday basis. Child well-being experts told of plunging physical, sexual, and emotional abuse reporting numbers as students were no longer in daily contact with educators who are the most common reporters. Economic insecurity, family stress, and anxiety increased. Available resources and support systems decreased. These shifts led to more evaluations at local abuse clinics and emergency rooms.
Let us not forget the ongoing racial reckoning America faced with the murders of black men and women by the police and vigilantes, inconsistent community policing attempts, the Capitol Riot, and the overarching systemic oppression of people of color evidenced by the ban on teaching critical race theory in public schools, for example. Surviving these past two years has not been for the faint of heart! Our children hold these collective and individual traumas in their minds and bodies. Academic and social lived experiences are evidenced in school behavior and performance.
Nevertheless, people and systems faced the covid slide with resilience. Schools offered laptops, hotspots, and face-to-face or virtual instruction. Efforts to support social-emotional learning and mental health were enhanced, and summer school was extended so students could catch up. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, summer camps provided fun and extended learning opportunities while local organizations organized food, clothing, and supply drives to meet the needs of families.
But is it enough?
Recently, the Florida Department of Education released achievements scores for schools across the state. Across grades 3-10, Orange County showed a 2% decrease in reading scores from 2019 to 2021 and a 7% decrease in math across grades 3-8. Both were less acute than the statewide results which show a decrease of 3% in reading and 10% in math.
Federally, Congress’ package for COVID-19 relief, the American Rescue Plan, provides $123 billion in aid for K-12 education. Many local classrooms will have a second teacher, called an interventional specialist, working with students in small groups to remediate academic skills needed to move forward and to ready students for new content, this method of learning support is called acceleration.
While optimistic, I do wonder what will happen to students who were grade levels behind before the pandemic. For some schools, it’s more than filling pandemic gaps. In this space, families can find innovative ways to support student learning outside of school. Here are three simple and inexpensive ideas:
Go outside. For children, playing and relaxing in nature can reduce stress, anxiety, and ADHD symptoms while improving the brain’s ability to think critically and problem solve. The presence of other children also helps to develop social skills. Weekly farmer’s markets, such as Barker’s Park on Saturdays, provide opportunities for learning, self-discovery, and community building.
Advance education through natural interests. Are there math and literacy opportunities within your children’s interests, hobbies, and aspirations? Discover in-person or virtual educational programming that supports their cultural identities.
If it’s free, it’s for me! FREE apps like Khan Academy and Duolingo Kids have interactive content to fill gaps in reading and math, or to keeps kids on track. Bank of America gives cardholders free access to over 175 museums and cultural centers on the 1st weekend of each month. Even virtual calls with family and friends can build communication skills. For those willing to spend a little, SeaWorld Annual passes start at $12.00 per month.
COVID-19 has undeniably impacted education but intentionality around supporting student learning in and out of school can help our children rise amid the slide.