Goodwyn Principal discusses the school’s challenges during pandemic
Goodwyn Middle School Principal Douglas Taylor discusses the school’s challenges during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Keisha Smith talks to God every day. A math teacher at Montgomery’s Goodwyn Middle School, she said she is looking for clarity, and assistance.
“I ask Jesus to help me help these kids,” Smith said. “Like what is going on?”
In her 27th year in education, the coronavirus pandemic has proven to be the most challenging time in her career — a sentiment surly shared by nearly all involved.
The fact that she is serving a student body that is by large considered economically disadvantaged (68%), within a system that was by large financially unprepared to close its schools, only compounds the challenges she’s faced in teaching standards her students will need if they are going to build upon them next year.
Smith is sure many of her students aren’t prepared for eighth grade math, considering dozens didn’t show for school at all this year, and those who did, often did not show regularly. Plus, she was only able to get through about 60% of the material expected to be covered in a year.
With 185 students on her roster, Smith estimated the most she ever had on Zoom in one day was about 60.
“Some kids, they never logged on to Zoom. They never did Schoology. They never turned in assignments,” she said.
More than a lost year, many of Goodwyn’s students were already struggling academically before the pandemic began.
Rated a D school, according to the state’s most recent report card showing academic data, just 11% of students were proficient in math. That rate rose to 12% for science and 21% in reading.
Given all of these circumstances, Smith is echoing the calls by education leaders throughout the country that say parents need to send their children to a summer learning program, more so now than ever.
“This year has been unprecedented,” Smith said. “Students need to make the connections and bridge the gaps that were already there.”
‘Shift the padadigm’: Latest round of relief funding gives Alabama schools monumental opportunity
All Alabama districts are now in a position to fund high quality, engaging summer programs — and are being required to do so by the federal government. With $125 billion allocated to the country’s K-12 public schools in the latest COVID-19 relief bill, the Biden administration is requiring $1.2 billion of that go toward evidence-based summer learning and enrichment programs. Though, districts can choose to spend much more.
Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has announced a Summer Learning & Enrichment Collaborative will launch in April, which will focus on developing plans for these programs. The goal is to give particular focus to students who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic — a category many of Alabama’s children living in poverty or in rural areas fall into.
Planning on the part of districts shouldn’t wait any longer, though, and parents who view summer as a fun break need to have a mind shift, leaders say.
“When you back up in time to last March when schools went virtual, nobody was really prepared for that and learning did not happen at the normal rate for the rest of the year,” Jim Wooten, chairman of Summer Adventures in Learning (SAIL), said. “As a result, on average, when students arrived in school in the fall of 2020, they were no further ahead than when they arrived in fall 2019.”
With researchers fearing students face permanent learning loss, increased drop out rates and the impact of losing opportunities to build social and emotional skills, “The time for summer learning has come,” Wooten continued. “There’s no way we are going to close that gap unless we have kids engaged in learning outside of school time.”
Starting in 2010, SAIL has worked with districts and community organizations to offer summer programs that strive to educate Alabama children while they are having fun. This, Wooten said, is what districts will have to do if they hope to get students back on track.
Navigating a pandemic: MPS administrators juggle a mountain of new tasks
“We do summer learning in a unique way. We nurture the whole child,” he said. It’s about providing, “rigorous academics with the best features of summer camp.”
It is this approach that Tuscaloosa City Schools took five years ago when the the district began to view school as a 10-month endeavor in which summer learning was absolutely necessary to obtaining its desired academic achievement results.
“The reason summer is important is because it clearly has a detrimental effect to learning,” especially for students who are normally more academically vulnerable, Andrew Maxey, Tuscaloosa City’s director of strategic initiatives, said.
Since the system made summer learning a major priority, Maxey said lessons on how to get the most students involved have been learned along the way.
“One of the key factors is that summer learning should be optional and voluntary. But these summer learning opportunities have to be highly appealing to students and that is typically done by ensuring there is a great deal of enrichment and engaging activities. The key is that kids think they are at camp but the teacher knows they are in school,” he said.
For example, one activity is making cupcakes — something students find fun without realizing they are learning a real life application of fractions.
The other key to success is to remove barriers for families to participate.
“The absolute best instruction is meaningless if there’s no one in the room to receive it,” Maxey said.
Their elementary and middle school programs will run for a full school day the month of June, so parents don’t have to navigate pickups in the middle of their work day. A half-day program isn’t workable, Maxey said, pointing to the low participation rate the district saw when it first started programs that ended at noon.
Additionally, the programs are free and the system lets families know their options as soon as possible.
“The first year we started in March and a lot of folks turned us down,” Maxey said. “A lot of students and parents make plans for the summer early so if we don’t start early and get in the calendar book, we’re late.”
Because of this, an online registration portal was launched in early March and prior, the families of students who are struggling were first invited to register. The district expects about 64% of its K-3 students to participate in the programs, and there are also “many community based programs we strongly encourage our families to go to,” Maxey said.
While Tuscaloosa City’s schools had a jump start on meeting the government’s call to offer students access to high quality learning during the summer, many Alabama districts are still finalizing details.
“We want to be innovative. We want to make sure it is tactile, engaged learning,” MPS Chief Academic Officer Bernard Mitchell said about the district’s summer learning plans.
Mitchell made a presentation to board members during its early March meeting, but a few details are still being worked out before families will be able to enroll.
While the district has offered summer school for students needing to improve their grades or recover credits and an enrichment program that was poorly attended, Mitchell and his team are hoping to create programming that will appeal to all students, especially those in elementary.
“Anybody and everybody who wants to attend, we have the ESSER funds to pay for it,” Mitchell said, referring to the COVID-19 Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds.
Summer learning, he continued, “is not just for students who have not been successful academically … it is designed for all students, regardless of the level.”
Parents should view this as an opportunity not just for academics, but for their children to have the social and emotional experiences imperative to their development.
“Since the outbreak, there have been few opportunities to engage with fellow students … with the vaccinations, we’re hoping that those type of opportunities will exist more for our students,” Mitchell said. “For the first time, we may have an opportunity for students to turn and talk to one another, to brainstorm, analyze and predict together.”
MPS plans to offer run the program four days a week for eight weeks over the summer. Transportation, along with breakfast and lunch will be provided and students will be assessed in the beginning, middle and end of the summer.
Whether or not the program will run a full day is undecided, as the district is still working on a partnership with a community organization that could provide programming for the second half of the day.
Increasing teachers’ summer school pay rate is also being discussed, as well as how to recruit education majors to serve as tutors.
As district leaders look to finalize these final details, Mitchell stressed how important participation is.
“We know we have had a learning loss,” he said. “We want all students present.”
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Krista Johnson at
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