MOORHEAD — Chalk it up as one more negative effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. Educational researchers are predicting that students returning to school this fall, whether online or in person, will have retained less material from last academic year than they would have in a normal year; however, tutoring might be one way to combat it.
“There’s always a bit of a ‘summer slump’ in reading and math retention after students have been away from the classroom, but the disruptions to school schedules and the shift to distance learning due to the COVID-19 crisis could result in even greater gaps,” said Minnesota Reading Corps and Math Corps Managing Director Sadie O’Connor.
Minnesota Reading Corps and Math Corps are currently looking for close to 1,750 tutors — six in Moorhead to help students in the state get back on track.
While studies over the last dozen years have been mixed as to the severity of academic regression over the summer, a study in April suggests that COVID-19 is magnifying what loss there could be.
According to Education Week’s “Inside School Research,” in a typical summer a student who spends his or her days going to the lake, riding their bike or playing video games can lose anywhere from two weeks to two months of academic growth. (Some argue that the brain break is worth the learning loss, which can easily be regained once class resumes).
However, the Northwest Evaluation Association projects this year, if students return to school without having adequate continuity of instruction during the closures, some might only have retained about 70% of their reading progress and 50% of their math progress compared to a normal year.
The study found students in 4th and 5th grade have the greatest potential for learning loss. Also, students with less access to technology, like computers and wireless service, were most impacted with learning disruptions.
“We are just trying to be prepared to provide the schools with as much support as they need,” said Christa Moszer, a senior manager with Minnesota Reading Corps and Math Corps. “So we're filling positions the best we can to have the tutors help students meet their needs right away from the beginning of the year."
Moszer says they’ve been able to fill quite a few of the K-3 positions in Moorhead, but they still have six Pre-K tutor positions available.
“It's a literacy tutor position, but our Pre-K program really is a model that incorporates both literacy and an early math for Pre- K students,” Moszer said.
Moszer says there is no need for a background in education.
“We literally have people from all walks of life,” Moszer said. “We have people that have just graduated from high school, all the way up to retirees and everything in between. People that are in the middle of a career change, stay at home parents that are looking to get involved at their children's schools or college students looking to take a gap year...we provide all the training that is needed throughout the year of service.”
Full and part-time positions are available with full-time tutors receiving a stipend of $650 every two weeks with the potential to earn an additional $4,336 for student loans or tuition. This education award can be gifted to a family member if the tutor is 55 or older. Many tutors also qualify for additional benefits like free health insurance and childcare assistance. Anyone interested is encouraged to apply now at readingandmath.net or by calling 866-859-2825.
Moszer says ideally tutors will work with students within the school building, but like everything with COVID-19, it’s hard to know what will happen.
“We're still living in the unknown at this point, in preparation for the school starting in the fall, and so we are preparing ourselves and our tutors to be as flexible as possible for whatever schools look like,” she said.
Moszer adds that the tutors are being provided to schools this year based upon applications the schools filled out in January and February prior to the pandemic. So it's possible, next year's applications,which will be turned in in winter 2021, will show an even greater need for tutors.
What can parents do to help to combat COVID/SUMMER SLIDE?
"There are many things parents and other adult caregivers can do to support children in maintaining the gains they made this past school year," said Erin Gillett, a professor of Early Childhood Education at MSUM.
Gillett teaches in both the Early Childhood and the Elementary Inclusive Education programs and is also the department chair of the School of Teaching and Learning.
Here are some of her tips:
- Read to and with your children. It sounds too easy, but there is a lot of research to support the positive effects of reading to children for pleasure. Just because your child can read doesn’t mean you have to stop reading to or with him/her.
- Focus on sharing experiences and observations as you read together. Make connections to other texts or your own life experiences and talk about those with your child. Invite him/her to share these same observations.
- Ask 'I wonder…' questions as you read. Think about this: How many of us have ever been in a book club or discussion group? No one forced us to answer worksheet questions about what we read or made us sit for 30 minutes reading only one book. We read, we talked, we shared wonderings, insights, and connections. That is the "vibe" you want to strive for when reading with your kids, especially the older students.
- Reading is most engaging when you read something that interests you. Help your kids find texts that tap into their interests. If you aren’t sure where to start, call or stop by the public library. Librarians are experts in matching books to kids. They can read books of all sorts (fiction, nonfiction, how-to texts, topic-specific titles), but remember there are also blogs, drama scripts, magazines, and websites—many of which are geared to younger audiences— all of these are worthwhile texts to encourage reading.
- Give kids choices. You might set a daily expectation for reading, but you can give your kids choices about when, where, and what they read. The experience can still have a summer feel to it. For example, invite them to lay out a blanket and read on the grass outside. Let them decorate a box or container as their Book Box, where they keep favorites and new titles. Take them to the library to switch out titles every week. If you expect 20 minutes of independent reading, make sure they know they can read anything in their book box or on whatever digital platform you’re using.