The so-called “summer brain drain” — where students lose some of the knowledge and skills they’ve learned during the school year while they’re off for summer vacation — is a real phenomenon. And with the coronavirus pandemic cutting the 2019-2020 school year short, many experts fear that this year’s summer slide will be even more pronounced. Students have already been out of school for three months — though they were learning at home during part of that time — with still weeks to go before classes resume … even if they resume on time, which is no guarantee.
At the Boys & Girls Club of the Cumberland Plateau, though, there’s plenty of education going on during the summer months. The club is back in session after its own Covid-19 closure, and students are not only participating in fun activities to help retain some of the things they learned at school last year, but they’re also learning new things — and they’re doing it safely, thanks to the efforts of the club’s staff.
The BGC reopened its doors for the first time in over two months on May 26. When schools closed in mid-March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the club followed suit. Staff members and administrators posted to social media and reached out to students during the time off, but nothing could replace the interaction with adults and peers that the club offers to its members.
Chief Professional Officer Justin Sharpe met with the club’s board of directors to offer his advice and share his plans for reopening. Among the plans are four phases of resuming operations. The first phase allowed 54 students to return to the club. First priority was given to essential service workers. The club is currently in Phase 2 and is serving 72 children ages 6-18. That number is less than half of the 170 students that are usually at the club during the summer months. The goal is for the club to be back to normal operations by the first of August, which would be Phase 4.
Specific safety measures, such as temperature checks and social distancing in the classrooms, have been implemented. Students have a staggered drop-off time from 6:30 a.m. – 8:30 a.m., and they are walked to the cars when the parents arrive in the afternoon to pick them up.
“We are restricting our visitors and the people who are coming in and out of the building,” Sharpe explained. “This limits exposure to our kids and our staff to try to keep everyone healthy.”
Classrooms are also being kept small. The student:teacher ratio is 12:1, and the children are being kept from mixing outside their assigned group of students. This has been one of the hardest parts of reopening the club, but the students are getting used to it, Sharpe said.
“When you tell kids that they have to stay six feet apart, that is difficult for them to understand,” he said. “Surprisingly, the teens have been the hardest to manage when it comes to social distancing, but they understand the importance of it.”
To help keep the student-teacher ratio low, the club has increased its staff to 30 and is employing six tutors through the state’s Tennessee Turtoring Corps (TTC) program. The goal of the program is to allow current college students the opportunity to help mentor children at the BGC and encourage academic growth.
“The bulk of our new hires are college students that are pursuing early education and teaching careers. They are bringing in good ideas and programs with little guidance from our seasoned staff,” Sharpe said.
BGC staff is helping to implement the “Summer Brain Gain” program. This program targets the summer learning loss that students often have over the course of the summer months. Research suggests that students typically lose around 30% of their school year learning over the course of the summer. With Covid-19 closures, experts are predicting that this year’s learning loss will be much greater.
“The ‘Summer Brain Gain’ program is comprised of one-week modules with fun, themed activities for elementary school, middle school and high school students that are aligned with common core anchor standards,” Sharpe said. “Each module takes a project-based learning approach: youth engage in a process of learning through discovery, creative expression, group work and a final project or production. As a result, kids develop higher-order thinking skills through the Summer Brain Gain modules while staying on track for the coming school year.”
In addition,the club is also implementing “Summer Brain Gain: Read!”, a literacy program that complements the larger Summer Brain Gain curriculum. This summer reading program presents a new book each week per age group, along with supporting activities that bring the book to life. The Boys and Girls Club summer learning loss program has been designed to ensure club members maintain academic progress through the summer months.
With the opening of school just around the corner, many families are curious to know what what the future looks like academically for the children of Scott County.
“That’s a good question,” Sharpe answered, when asked if he knew what would happen if schools didn’t resume as normal in August. “So far, we have been blessed to have received funding to be able to weather the storm. No matter what, we will continue to do our best to serve our kids and families the best we can.”
This story is the June 2020 installment of Focus On: Education, presented by S.T.A.N.D. on the third week of each month as part of the Independent Herald’s Focus series. A print version of this article can be found on Page 3 of the June 18, 2020 edition of the Independent Herald.