by Christopher Simmonds, Principal and Marty Steinberger, President, CARE Elementary School
Apart from the obvious and immediate health and social consequences of battling COVID-19, one of the most significant negative impacts the pandemic has leveled on families over the past two years is the significant ‘learning loss’ felt by students everywhere. This is largely a result of schools being unprepared and under funded to take measures to mitigate the effects of the virus while keeping students in class and thriving academically.
The numbers on basic American literacy paint a dire picture: According to resources from KIDS COUNT and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, only 20% of low-income students are proficient readers. For students of color the numbers are worse. And while the situation is bad now, scores have been low for some time. In the past 27 years, reading gains have only marginally increased.
Few places have been challenged by COVID more than the CARE (Christian Academy for Reaching Excellence) Elementary School’s low-income community of Overtown, near downtown Miami, FL. Minority students comprise 99% of the school population. At CARE, the Board of Directors knows how vital in-school instruction and social interactions are for the educational and emotional health and development of all kids, and especially for those coming to school from difficult backgrounds.
With cases of the Omicron variant of COVID surging throughout the States, our school remains proactive in following health recommendations and guidelines to keep students and staff safe, while continuing in-person instruction in our building. For children in low-income communities, virtual instruction is often problematic, as internet access and a learning-conducive environment can be limited.
One technological innovation we’ve had the opportunity to take advantage of is the Tiger Tech Plus monitor, which has been authorized for emergency use by the FDA to help screen for COVID-19, and works like many consumer electronics and fitness trackers. Use of the innovative Tiger Tech Plus armband to identify biometric markers in the children who have been exposed to positive classmates has eliminated the need to quarantine entire pods or classes. The device is also used to screen students in the week between separate PCR testing to detect a probable contagion.
During the Fall term, this system eliminated the need for 167 exposed students to transfer to remote learning for 2 weeks of school, and allowed parents to continue to work without interruption. During this time, our students continued to succeed and actually surpassed records they had set prior to the pandemic.
Seventy-two percent of all students in the school and eighty five percent of third graders tested at or above grade level in reading on 2021 standardized testing. These results would not have been possible for students in our low-income neighborhood without the in-person instruction of our dedicated teachers.
It’s unacceptable to allow children’s elementary school education, which is vital for their ability to amass cumulative knowledge in the future, to be derailed by the effects of COVID. There are ways schools and administrators can make sure we fulfill our duty to our students by sharing expertise and using the resources we have wisely.