After an unusual Summer 2020 and school year, we were inspired by the dedication of the Horizons community to bring students back to programs in-person, while also offering options for virtual and hybrid participation. A 9th grader from Horizons at New Canaan Country School said it best:
“I value the determination of the community. The Horizons community cared about us students so much that they put forth the utmost effort to coming here and setting up to provide us with the Horizons experience.Was it tough? Yes, but that didn't faze them because they cared about us getting here even with masks and all the protocols.”
But unfortunately, opportunity isn't equal. Across our country, many students and families are unable to access the support they need, both during and outside of school. This year, COVID-19 thrust summer and out-of-school learning into the spotlight, with many students experiencing what is now called the COVID Slide - an erosion of academic, social, and emotional skills due to disrupted schooling caused by the pandemic, particularly for students in communities most affected by school closures.
Summer learning has never mattered more than it does right now. During a challenging year of remote learning, students faced increased mental health stress, higher rates of absenteeism, and disengagement in school. Teachers also experienced fatigue as they navigated the remote, hybrid, and in-person learning environments that were in a constant state of flux. Innovative and impactful summer learning programs will reverse the fatigue, energizing both students and teachers. Yet, with summer fast-approaching, plans for schools to support students through summer learning remain in limbo. Let’s remedy this situation.
Funding for summer is available at unprecedented levels through the American Rescue Plan. Signaling the importance of summer learning, the Department of Education also recently announced its National Summer Learning & Enrichment Collaborative. All of this has left districts and schools scrambling to put something in place for the summer of 2020. Yet, a recent analysis of 100 large and urban school districts found that more than half have not yet shared any information about their summer plans.
In a year of interrupted, inconsistent, and often virtual learning, when a majority of students didn't have the same access to resources such as laptops and WiFi, COVID-19 only further illuminated opportunity gaps that have always existed, and these barriers disproportionately impacted communities of color.
With the recent passage of the American Rescue Plan and the inclusion of the Summer Learning & Enrichment Collaborative, there is a record amount of funding available for learning recovery. However, we need to ensure this funding does not go to waste and that it intentionally addresses learning gaps that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. This means prioritizing existing programs like Horizons that are ready to support students' recovery, not just this summer but over the long-term.
In 2020, the need to create more opportunities for all young people to thrive and be successful came into sharp focus. COVID-19 spotlighted the disparities we’ve combated for years in under-resourced communities across the country. According to Pew Research, the majority of U.S. students don’t have the same access to resources such as laptops and WiFi, which have posed barriers to education in the time of virtual learning. These barriers, according to PEW, disproportionately impact communities of color.
What many students and families say they need right now is something we’ve been doing successfully for decades. With high-quality opportunities to learn, a strong sense of community, and close, supportive relationships, all students can recover from COVID-19 learning loss -- and excel even further ahead.