“It’s known as the summer slide, or summer setback. That period of just over two months when our children are out of school, when learning diminishes—and often disproportionately impacts youth from historically disadvantaged groups. This summer is a chance to reverse that trend.”
Traditionally, it’s known as the summer slide, or summer setback. That period of just over two months when our children are out of school, when learning diminishes—and often disproportionately impacts youth from historically disadvantaged groups. This summer is a chance to reverse that trend.
The pandemic’s trajectory led our school systems to pivot to remote learning, and later to hybrid models or formats that still caused significant disruptions that severely impacted students’ academic performance. Test scores reportedly dropped more dramatically than as a result of other large-scale disruptions, such as after Hurricane Katrina. And the chasm between the scores of non-white and white and Asian students widened significantly.
The pandemic simply brought these inequities to the fore, with higher percentages of people of color being hospitalized or dying due to COVID, being displaced from their homes, or experiencing housing insecurity.
These disruptions in students’ lives cannot be ignored, even for those forced to learn remotely for much of the time, isolated from classmates and losing valuable in-person instruction, learning in settings packed with similarly isolated family members, and often without good internet access. The result could be academic challenges that last a lifetime and lead to intergenerational poverty.
Experts, such as Harvard’s Center for Education Policy, studied the pandemic’s impact on learning by measuring skills in math and reading and found that the longer students were placed in remote learning settings, the greater their learning loss. We also cannot ignore the pandemic’s impact on their emotional and mental health, which the U.S. Surgeon General called “devastating.”
While most students returned to in-person instruction last fall, the pandemic’s trajectory still exacted significant disruption. Families often didn’t have the money, space, or the availability of adults to help youths when they struggled. As State Regent Lester Young said, “pandemic-related learning loss has been especially damaging to our most vulnerable populations.”
We need to use this summer to focus on their futures. New York City has smartly invested in a summer rising learning initiative. Bloomberg Philanthropies joined in with a $50 million SummerBoostNYC program to reach about 25,000 students. And the federal government distributed $190 billion to schools in pandemic rescue efforts, with most reportedly using those funds to support summer programming. But getting students back up to speed requires more than just dollars, but common sense.
Nonprofit organizations such as the one I am deeply invested in, Horizons New York City, are adapting to meet these needs. By focusing more intently on developing social and mental well-being skills, as well as academic skills, we can set our children and young adults on the right track once again.
At Horizons, which supports students from families at the low end of the income scale, parents and guardians tell us that many youths experienced the traumatic losses of loved ones during the pandemic and the inability to engage with friends and get quality in-person interaction with teachers.
That’s why we’re focused on rebuilding the whole student, not just on improving their ability to succeed at tests, but to succeed in life. Summer should be about joy and engagement for families, and Horizons offers emotional and social support in addition to academic support.
This involves reorienting them in activities that take them across the city, so they discover new things about themselves and their abilities to think creatively. It involves a deep focus on reading, on teamwork, and building confidence. It includes debating and recreational activities, such as swimming and surfing for instance, which make learning and discovery fun. This is the type of program that should attach to every public housing development in the city.
Clearly, none of this can be accomplished in a silo. The mayoral administration and Department of Education have announced investments, but we recognize that they should not do this alone. The obligation requires commitments from the private sector, too, because these are the students who will eventually join the workforce, and we must provide them with the resources to succeed in their jobs.
We must ensure that students know we are here for them, that they feel safe and ready to learn, that spending time in school this summer is not an obstacle but an opportunity. We need a commitment from our parents to work in tandem to get students up to speed before fall.
Our students should have the opportunity to discover that the pandemic may have been a setback, but won’t define their lives. It’s a chance for them to turn this setback into success, for themselves, for their families, and for their communities.
Carmen Fariña is the former New York City Schools chancellor and a board member at Horizons NYC.