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In their efforts to close the reading achievement gap for every child, Springboard Collaborative is offering free resources for families and teachers. Check them out here.

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Pro tips

On educating kids at home

Need help tackling the Covid slide? Here are some tips from the experts we interviewed:

  • Springboard has put out a four-week, learn-at-home plan for families. Even if you only have 15 minutes to sit down with your kid and a book, know that it’s worth it—your kid is still becoming a better reader.
  • Parents who want more than the five-minute video recap can join Springboard on Facebook Live for weekly virtual workshops
  • If a child can read on her own, then it’s about making sure you get an electronic library card, through which you can access all sorts of children’s books digitally.
  • If you can’t actually get books, then have your child listen to stories or podcasts on your phone or smart speaker—whatever device you have.
  • If adults don’t have time or aren’t strong readers themselves, it’s more than okay to log on to YouTube to hear other people, from celebs (like Michelle Obama) to librarians, reading out loud.
  • Ask kids to write down the grocery list; have them cook with you and read a recipe; work together to jot down an oral history of your family; make up stories, taking turns adding a sentence to the story.
  • For the littlest children, draw pictures—because drawing is a precursor to being able to write; then help them write one word to describe each picture, whatever it may be.
  • Build children up emotionally with a simple, effective practice experts calls “2 by 10”: Set aside two minutes, every day for 10 days, to talk to your child about anything they’d like, whether it’s the pandemic or their baseball cards or the latest episode of American Idol.
  • Show kids that we are all capable of giving to others, by making signs and cards for frontline workers, or calling grandparents just to say hi.

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Support Philly students

The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia is a nonprofit organization that helps the School District raise money—for buying laptops, classroom libraries and other projects. You can donate to the Fund here.

Need Chromebook help? Tech Hotlines added to Chromebook Loaner Program here. Internet info/resources are here.

Purchase an Art Kit, and support two Philadelphia school students in the process. You can also Donate to get supplies to even more Philly kids.

Tackling the Covid Slide

Keeping students from falling behind may be simpler than we think

Keeping students from falling behind may be simpler than we think

You’ve heard of the “summer slide,” the backwards steps kids often wind up taking, particularly when it comes to literacy and math, during the summer months away from school.

More recently, maybe you’ve heard talk of the “the Covid slide,” or “Covid gap,” the lapses in skills and knowledge that many fear students will face due to the months they’re spending out of school in light of the pandemic.

Experts say it’s not a hypothetical.

“I don’t think it’s a potential risk—I think it’s a definite,” says Jenny Bogoni, Executive Director of Read by 4th, the coalition of partners working to ensure all children in Philadelphia read at grade level by the time they reach 4th grade. “The kids are going to slide.”

Do SomethingAlejandro Gibes de Gac, founder and CEO of Springboard Collaborative, the Philly-based national nonprofit that focuses on closing the literacy gap by bridging home and school with after-school, summer, and in-school programs, echoes the concerns of Bogoni and others. With every passing hour of school closures, he says, the achievement gap is growing wider and wider.

“I go on Instagram and I see parents with means who are on their third science experiment of the day. They’re teaching their kid how to play chess, violin, and do calculus all at the same time. And I know that’s just not the reality in terms of the families that Springboard tends to serve, those who are worried about how to keep a roof over their head, how to put food on the table. It just looks very very different,” Gibes de Gac says. 

The only way to prevent Covid-19 from widening the achievement gap for a whole generation of children, he maintains, is by swiftly equipping low-income parents to support learning at home. 

“There is simply no other way of going about it—and to be completely candid, I think that was true before the pandemic,“ he says. “School closures just brought that into stark relief.”

“Between now and the day that schools reopen, we’ve got a unique but a fleeting opportunity to demonstrate the power of parent engagement to produce learning outcomes,” says Gibes de Gac. “And if we can do it on a large enough scale, we can fundamentally change the education system for the better, and for good.”

If you picture a kid’s time as an orange, he proposes, their class time is a relatively small wedge, and our education system is fixated on squeezing more and more juice from that wedge. “I’m more interested in the question of what you do with the rest of the orange,” he says, “how you help parents support learning at home, so that we can support children more holistically in ways that higher-income parents often can.”

Broke in Philly logoRecognizing all of the constraints that low-income parents, in particular, are facing, we must offer them strategies that they can use in a relatively short amount of time in order to help their child learn at home in a meaningful way. 

Gibes de Gac says it’s possible, and he’s not just being idealistic: Springboard Collaborative’s methodology has proven highly effective in the 14 districts nationwide in which it’s in place. The organization, whose president/COO/CFO for a time was Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan, lives and breathes by empirical data—one of its core values is setting goals, against which outcomes can then be measured. 

According to their 2019 report, 70 percent of students met their goal of reaching the next reading level, and 55 percent exceeded their goal; in just 10 weeks, Springboard “scholars,” as students are known, made more than 16 weeks’ worth of growth. These students, it bears noting, are the ones who are the farthest behind—not the ones already excelling or seeking enrichment.

Applying their success to the unique needsCheat Sheet of the pandemic, Springboard has put out a four-week, learn-at-home plan for families. Every week there’s a different strategy, and a daily plan: Even if you only have 15 minutes to sit down with your kid and a book, Gibes de Gac says, “Know that if you do this and only this, your kid is still becoming a better reader, and you’re doing right by them as a family member.” 

Parents who want more than the five-minute video recap can join Springboard on Facebook Live for weekly virtual workshops, where parents—with their kids crawling all over them on the couch, like the rest of us—demonstrate that same literacy strategy of the week, in greater depth. 

There’s also their app, Springboard Connect, which provides personal tips and strategies (and reminders) to parents, in order to support their efforts at home. All resources are available for free on Springboard’s website.

For teachers, Springboard created a four-week family engagement plan, with a script to call families for wellness check-ins and to support parents; they’re also offering free virtual professional development.

“All of these resources are valuable whether or not school is opened, but the fact that we’re dealing with this particular circumstance makes more apparent something that was already true, which is that there’s no better way to personalize instruction than through the parent. There’s no smaller classroom than a living room. So if there’s a silver lining in any of this,” Gibes de Gac says, “my hope is that we can fundamentally reshape the relationship and the dynamic between school systems and low-income parents.”

“Surrounding children with rich language is probably the most important thing families can do,” Bogoni says.

Bogoni emphasizes that there are all kinds of ways families can weave learning into life under Our New Normal, and that the key piece to overcoming gaps really is empowering families.

“Assuming that systems really are doing everything they can, it’s about families and communities. And the best thing families can do is keep their children connected to texts and to reading,” she says. 

Of course, that looks different for children at different ages. If a child can read on her own, then it’s about making sure you get an electronic library card, through which you can access all sorts of children’s books digitally. If you can’t actually get books, then have your child listen to stories or podcasts on your phone or smart speaker—whatever device you have. 

“Surrounding children with rich language is probably the most important thing families can do,” Bogoni says.

Younger children may require more adult support, and if adults don’t have time or aren’t strong readers themselves, it’s more than okay to log on to YouTube to hear other people, from celebs to librarians, reading out loud. “All of those things are just super, super important,” Bogoni says.

There are other simple steps families can take that can have a big impact, she says: Ask kids to write down the grocery list; have them cook with you and read a recipe; work together to jot down an oral history of your family; make up stories, taking turns adding a sentence to the story. 

Custom Halo“Any of these things that engage a child in an ongoing, back-and-forth conversation where, again, they’re being exposed to different vocabulary, different context, different words, is absolutely the best thing families can do for their children around reading, right now,” Bogoni says.

For the littlest children, she says, focus on just drawing pictures—because drawing is a precursor to being able to write; then help them write one word to describe each picture, whatever it may be. 

“If I had to pick two subjects for people to pay attention to, it would be early literacy and mathematical thinking—keeping kids connected to numbers, keeping kids counting and adding and sorting, thinking about shapes and how things fit together,” she says. 

Think about those two realms, and try to make it all as playful as possible. Children—of all ages—need their parents and their families to be parents and families, not teachers, and making sure families do what they can to build playful times, where kids are directing the play and guiding parents into fun, creative things to do, is critical, Bogoni says. 

“I would hate to see families try to turn their home into school 24 hours a day. Because social-emotional learning is really, really important too,” Bogoni says. “If these kids come back to school in the fall, or whenever it is, feeling unsafe, feeling traumatized, it’s gonna make it that much harder for us to overcome whatever gap has developed.”

Psychiatrist Pamela Cantor, MD, is the founder and senior science advisor at Turnaround For Children, the nonprofit that helps educators address the impact of stress and trauma on children’s learning and development. She says we can build our children up emotionally with a simple, effective practice experts called “2 by 10”: Set aside two minutes, every day for 10 days, to talk to your child about anything they’d like, whether it’s the pandemic or their baseball cards or the latest episode of American Idol.

“Trauma is such an issue in our community, so focusing on the joy, focusing on building up families, focusing on what can be done, is critical to us coming out the other side of this,” Bogoni says. “I really believe that we as families can do this. We have to lower the bar on what we expect, and then we have to do what we can very, very well.”

It’s one of the best-studied and most effective practices for emotion and behavior regulation, and the bonds it helps forge boost the production of oxytocin, the feel-good hormone that counters the effects of stress hormones like cortisol.

“The secret sauce or active ingredient obviously is the attention paid, but it’s also the consistency,” Cantor explains. 

Cantor also emphasizes the importance of nurturing generosity while we’re all at home—of showing kids that we are all capable of giving to others, like by making signs and cards for frontline workers, or calling grandparents just to say hi.

“The connections between generosity, gratitude, and resilience are very strongly established in the literature on where resilience comes from, so it’s an important theme to bring out and it is something anyone can do,” Cantor says.

“Trauma is such an issue in our community, so focusing on the joy, focusing on building up families, focusing on what can be done, is critical to us coming out the other side of this,” Bogoni says. “I really believe that we as families can do this. We have to lower the bar on what we expect, and then we have to do what we can very, very well.”

Gibes de Gac, of Springboard, believes in the transformative power of this shift. “The achievement gap has gotten wider, not smaller, in the last couple of decades, despite spending many billions of dollars on interventions to try to accomplish the opposite,” he says. “So I think between now and the day that schools reopen, we’ve got a unique but a fleeting opportunity to demonstrate the power of parent engagement to produce learning outcomes. And if we can do it on a large enough scale, we can fundamentally change the education system for the better, and for good.”

The Citizen is one of 19 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow the project @BrokeInPhilly.

Photo courtesy Eugene Kim / Flickr

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