A Summer of Learning for Our Most Vulnerable Students

August 14, 2020

In March 2020, K-12 schools in Los Angeles County had to quickly transition 70,000 teachers and 1.5 million students and their families to online platforms for distance learning.  This immediate disruption to traditional school operations exacerbated long-time gaps in educational opportunities and access along racial and socioeconomic lines for the County’s young people.

As this historic school year came to an end, it became essential to address the seasonal “learning loss” students usually experience during the summer months as it was likely to compound and accelerate under the unusual circumstances of COVID-19.

New research suggests that by September, most students will have fallen behind where they would have been if they had stayed in classrooms, with some losing the equivalent of a full school year’s worth of academic gains. Racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps will most likely widen because of disparities in access to computers, home internet connections and direct instruction from teachers.

THE SUMMER LEARNING INITIATIVE

Given the extended physical closures of schools and youth-serving community centers, there was an urgent need for responsive summertime learning environments to mitigate potential learning loss and to address the social-emotional needs of youth who were facing social-isolation and disruption in their lives due to the pandemic.

In response, the California Community Foundation (CCF) in partnership with the Los Angeles County Office of Education and The Greater LA Education Foundation, and with the generous support of donors and philanthropic partners, launched the Los Angeles County Summer Learning Initiative to support extended learning opportunities for low-income and vulnerable youth in the summer of 2020.  The first grants were made within one week of the launch of the initiative in May, with rolling grants awarded in the subsequent 5 weeks.

Ultimately, 55 organizations (18 schools/districts and 37 nonprofit organizations) were funded for a total of $1.4 million. Grants focused on academic supports as well as activities that promote social-emotional learning, student well-being and family engagement. An estimated 52,099 students across Los Angeles County will be served through this funding. Some of the in-person and virtual activities include:

  • STEAM workshops on Google CS First coding, wildlife biology activities, creating your own podcast and even a Zoom Q&A with a NASA JPL instruments engineer.
  • Workforce development for teenagers, providing them with paid internship opportunities and building resume writing, interview skills and intergenerational relationships.
  • Safe-distance social recreation to foster positive social interactions, turn-taking, problem solving and conflict resolution.
  • Individual tutoring (virtual) for children most in need of academic support.
  • Support with a specialized mental health counselor to address the angst and isolation the experienced over the past few months.

Attending regular virtual workshops and classes are helping to build new learning habits and skills, as well as confidence, that can be applied to the upcoming school year’s remote learning environment.

CCF is working with an external research team to understand promising practices from the 55 grantees of the Summer Learning Initiative to inform efforts for the school-year ahead.

INVESTING IN OUR STUDENTS & OUR FUTURE

It seems that a return to normal for students is uncertain as school districts continue distance learning for the start of the new school year. What is certain is that a new investment needs to be made in our low-income and vulnerable K-12 students today and the rebuilding of a more resilient, responsive student-centered educational system into the future. Here are a few policy measures CCF is supporting.

  • The Safer at Home mandate laid bare the cruel reality that too many Angeleno households and students have neither reliable internet service nor the hardware to participate in virtual learning. We need to ensure equal access to Internet broadband by more families throughout Los Angeles County
  • This November, passage of Proposition 15 “Schools and Communities First” could generate over $3.75 billion in much needed new revenues for Los Angeles County K-12 public schools, community colleges and local governments by closing tax loopholes for the state’s largest commercial properties.

SUMMER LEARNING ACTIVITY GALLERY 

LA County Summer Learning Initiative

 

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