San Francisco did so on Monday, welcoming more than 51,000 students back to in-person learning. It will be a year of rebuilding, following one of the worst disruptions to education in the history of this country. Now districts have to tackle the sizable learning loss experienced by many.
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In San Francisco, hundreds of public school students experienced learning losses after more than a year of online learning. The school district used the summer to play catch up, with several teachers working to help kids who fell behind in reading.
"Everything we did this summer was to address the learning loss," explained Teresa Shipp, head of SFUSD's Summer Learning Recovery Programs.
SF Unified had a record 82 sites where different organizations worked with 15,000. Springboard Summer Program was just one of several, with six sites serving 600 children.
"For Springboard, we really targeted students that we knew were reading below grade level," added Shipp.
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A young reader sounded out words with the help of his teacher, "Many people catch fish, others like to take boat... rides."
Each student was assessed before and after the 5-week program.
Oakland Unified also offered the Springboard program. Reginald Mosley is a parent of three children.
"The one that was doing really well, she continued to gain, the one that was doing like in the middle, he actually gained and the third one although she didn't do as well as the other two, or as well as I would have liked for her to have done, she did actually gained, she actually reads more," explained Mosley.
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But this is just the beginning of any type of remediation.
We know from a report from the Global Education Coalition that learning loss may last far beyond the current school year. When it comes to remediation during the school year, expect different approaches.
Schools in Houston, for example, will add 15 days to make up for the COVID learning loss. In San Francisco public schools, any additional days of instruction, even with added compensation, would need to be agreed upon with the teachers union.
Dublin Unified will start by assessing each student.
"See where students are and continue to assess them throughout the year to make sure that they cover the key standards needed to move to the next level," explained Superintendent Chris Funk.
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Some Oakland parents are concerned that kids living in underserved communities will not get the attention they need. The parent advocacy group, The Oakland Reach, sued the California Department of Education, alleging that not enough was done to provide those kids with an adequate education during the pandemic.
"We've been in a perpetual learning loss for 50 years. People actually care about it now, but let's see what we're going to do about it over the next year, or are we going to make a lot of excuses that it was too much learning loss and so we can't make up those gains?" expressed Lakisha Young, CEO of The Oakland Reach.
Any kind of approach to address learning losses will take a collective will, time, and money. Each school district in California had until April 7 to apply for financial support from the state.
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"It's like, a lot. It's like a lot of money," Governor Newsom told a small group of elementary school students in July, as he announced that the state was setting aside $5.3 billion for the State's Learning Loss Mitigation Funding.
Another option is to allow parents to decide if their child should repeat a grade. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez introduced AB 104.
"We've given the schools all this money, but I think sometimes parents who feel like 'I've watched my child, I've been home with my child this whole year and I know they haven't progressed', at least allow them to sit down and have an open and honest discussion that includes the desire to let them retake the grade," explained Gonzalez.
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That's a first in California, which has always believed in social promotion.
Most parents are not supportive of the legislation.
"It was a loss, but I don't want my kids to fall behind, that's a psychological thing for me. You're still in the second grade, how would you feel about that? No, you're in the third grade and you're behind, we can deal with that," said Mosley.
Others believe that after more than a year of being somewhat isolated, schools prioritize the social and emotional needs of students. West Contra Costa Unified will have a "soft start" to build relationships.
"What that really means is that we really have to take time to find space, time during the school day to make sure we're checking in with our kids," added Superintendent Chris Hurst.
That may well be the key to a successful transition.
Many parents and teachers agree, this is the time to "delete" some of the worn-out educational approaches prior to pandemic. Instead make this the year we build a new way to respond to the needs of each child.
"What was not working before is a lack of adult will to do what's just right for kids. Even though our systems serve kids they are often times focused on the needs and wants of adults," said Young of The Oakland Reach.
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