During the COVID shutdown, I was employed as a teacher at White’s Junior Senior High School located on the campus of White’s Residential and Family Services campus, in Wabash, IN. The school catered exclusively to juvenile offenders who live on campus or attended online. I witnessed first-hand the decline in student school participation when we could no longer meet in person. I made myself available, online, but only a few students took advantage of our services. As a result, their academic performance declined significantly. My sister, Lisa, who teaches at an inner-city school in the Detroit area, observed similar outcomes.
Recently the National Center for Educational Statistics released its report on mathematics and reading assessments (https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/). Not surprisingly, the results were disappointing. They reported the “largest score declines in NAEP mathematics at grades 4 and 8 since initial assessments in 1990.”
Breaking down the decline of performance by state, there are 43 that decreased, 10 that showed no significant change, and no states that showed improvements. In general, the states that had the longest lockdowns witnessed the poorest results.
Similarly, reading scores declined in both grades 4 and 8. We could argue about the necessity of extended shutdowns in light of the low mortality rates for children, but the damage has already been done. The important question to ask is, what are we going to do about it?
If there ever was a time that tutoring could serve an important role in helping students catch up on their studies, it is now, and one does not need to make the case for the effectiveness of tutoring. Sadly, in both communities that Rock Solid Teen Center has served, Syracuse and North Manchester, Indiana, our success rate at recruiting tutors and getting the parental support necessary for children to receive tutoring has been unsatisfactory. Participation from public schools, college students, and other adult volunteers is critical to making this happen. But it certainly isn’t the time to give up. We must press ahead until we find approaches that can make this happen.
We have learned, from experience, having tutoring take place during regular hours is counterproductive. Even when we set aside small room space, the kids are still easily distracted. We believe the best approach is to set aside a day when youth come in for nothing but tutoring.
In addition, we are exploring the possibility of Zoom tutoring. Many folks have become comfortable with the technology during the COVID shutdown. Tutors close in age, for example, high school and first-year college students pose significant risks of inappropriate relationships. Broadening the age gap can minimize those risks. For example, in North Manchester, we have two large retirement communities. There are many capable adults who can assist students in their studies without leaving the facilities.
The bottom line is this: Most students have fallen behind. Tutoring can play an important role in helping them catch up. And just because our/your local affiliate has run into numerous roadblocks, our children’s education is too important to give up on. As always, each youth center can serve as a “laboratory” for trying different approaches. And when we learn of an approach that is effective, we can share it with each other.
In service to Christ