Summer Pilot Halts COVID Learning Loss | The Riverdale Press

By Stacy Driks

What started two years ago as a way for Riverdale Country School to help disadvantaged youth during the pandemic has grown into a sustainable summer school program.

The prestigious private K-12 school has worked with the national organization Horizons through its New York branch since 2020. Its mission is to advance equity in education by reducing the loss of learning in the summer. HNYC provides academic access, opportunity, and guidance to underserved students throughout New York City. Besides Riverdale, Horizons offers programs in Brooklyn and East Harlem.

The reason for starting the program grew out of concern for poor children, who make up 71.9% of New York’s school population. Teachers and government officials feared that these students would lose learning opportunities during the 2020-21 COVID-19 hybrid courses.

“Horizons’ mission is to fight for educational equity in the city and close the opportunity gap in our country,” said Horizons NYC Regional Director Aubrie Therrien.

Their three-week pilot program, which begins July 11 is funded by grants and individuals.

“The pandemic has created gaps in all areas of learning, especially for our youngest learners,” said Andrea Hutchins, Co-Principal of Horizons Riverdale Country School.

At their Riverdale location, it started and is still a pilot program, practically with freshmen on the rise. It eventually grew and then added two grades since then. It’s now done live.

“We have very busy and fun days for our students! We focus on interdisciplinarity, so there’s a natural flow, back and forth, from the classroom to community development,” Hutchins said.

Unlike traditional summer schools, Horizons students don’t spend 45 minutes on reading, writing, and math. Instead, students spend time in creative lessons to push their thinking and learning.

Additionally, the classes, which each include 20 students, help them develop and practice social and emotional skills, which are often overlooked in school development, Hutchins said. The press.

Students are chosen based on applications, which include a teacher recommendation and report card to determine their academic needs.

Therrien said The press that students who receive a free or reduced lunch at school are eligible for the program.

Co-directors Hutchins and Jessie Grees are encouraging local families to apply if they are eligible.

“Summer learning loss is kind of the phenomenon we see in low-income communities where students go away for the summer, and they come back to school, and they’re two months behind their peers. “, underlined Therrien.

Most traditional summer schools last six weeks. However, Riverdale is a three-week program – for now.

Some might ask, is that enough?

“They say something is better than nothing,” Therrien said.

“Every student will experience every course (offered),” Grees said. “Our teachers will differentiate their teaching for each grade level.”

Offerings this summer include Mandarin, Games from Around the World, Understanding Feelings with Art and Music, Playwriting, Theater, Music Writing, Exploring Sea Animals and more.

Horizon teachers and mentors are free to choose how they want their classroom program to run. They call it a “dream class”. It encourages educators to push themselves and engage in something they are passionate about.

In each class, there are two teachers plus volunteers. This means that the majority of students in the class will receive individual attention.

“It’s the most beautiful day of my life !” said a student in Brooklyn, which almost brought Therrien to tears.

The year Horizons began to return in person, Therrien noticed student trauma. They were coming out of the pandemic, especially young children who were doing a year and a half of virtual learning. They have experienced disruption, food insecurity and, sadly, family grief. Being away from their friends didn’t help.

However, over time in the program, she saw students eventually showing happiness.

Horizons likes to let students have fun while learning, which they say sets it apart from traditional summer schools. In Brooklyn, professional lifeguards teach students how to surf. Some places also offer the possibility of swimming.

“It’s huge to teach our students to swim,” said Therrien.

Swimming may be overlooked as an educational value, but it is a safety issue that should be educated, especially for young people.

On an ethnic scale, swimming education – in pools – is vital in some communities because black and brown youth are 7.6 times more likely to drown than white children.

Unfortunately, the Riverdale program will not be offering swimming this summer as planned due to a scheduling conflict and staffing issues with the ESF camp.

“We are honored to be part of this program to have started its pilot year and to see it evolve into the in-person experience it is today, it is both exciting and humbling,” said the co-directors. “Our students, families and teachers are some of the most creative, grateful and enthusiastic people we know. »

Norma A. Roth