Playing Catch-Up: The Race to Get Kids On Track With Learning Before Fall

Special Reports

DES MOINES, Iowa — Most Iowa school districts will let out for Summer Break near the start of June.  That’s the unofficial deadline for parents to have important conversations with teachers about learning that might have been missed during the pandemic, and how to make it up in time for fall. In a *survey of teachers, 85% said their students are behind.  Some are lagging by as much as an entire school year.  Just 15% of k-12 teachers said their students are where they need be.

Courtney Davidson, of Boone, said her eight-year-old son, Sam, struggled with online learning for a couple of weeks last winter.  “(He) wanted nothing to do with the online learning.  There’s a very large gap of education that was missed.”  She doesn’t begrudge teachers.  “Not their fault.” said Davidson.  I wouldn’t blame (lack of learning) on the teachers.  There’s no way to control a screen full of kids.”

Sam’s tutor, Angela Lange, quit her public school teaching job to give kids the one-on-one tutoring she knew they needed.  A year later, the pandemic hit.  “Oh, my goodness!  I have a waiting list of 20-to-30 families.” said Lange.”  “(In the summer) I tutor a lot longer hours.  So, Monday – Thursday I’m (working) for 12 hours.”

Lots of families can identify, but cannot afford a private tutor.  This summer, public schools are getting an influx of cash to tackle the problem.  Iowa will receive $775 million for costs schools incurred due to the pandemic.  About $700 million of that goes directly to the districts.  About $140 million is required to be spent on “interventions that respond to disruptions to learning.”  In other words, it’s supposed to help students catch up on the instruction they missed.

“We already have the systems and the programs in place here at Des Moines Public Schools to handle (catching students up).” said Mimi Willoughby.  She coordinates learning interventions for Des Moines Public high school students, many of whom struggled to learn when the district was providing 100% virtual instruction.  She sited real life distractions for students, such as “full-time careers.  Jobs.  Children of their own.”

Willoughby said the team at DMPS typically focuses on helping seniors finish enough classes to graduate.  She explained, “This year is different, in that (all students) get access to credit recovery.”

Willoughby’s elementary and middle school counterpart is also in the process of bringing on up to 400 teachers for the biggest summer of catch-up, ever.  Cara Edmondson talks enthusiastically about welcoming 3,000 students into their summer learning environments.  “It’s going to be fun!  A lot of our mornings are going to be spent with math teachers, reading, and then in the afternoons enrichment programming from some of our (community) partners.”

Edmondson had this message for DMPS parents who are nervous about their kids falling further behind during the summer:  Contact your child’s classroom teacher before summer break.  She added, “Send (your kids) to us!  And also, just (take it) one day at a time.  We’re all in it together.”  Willoughby echoed, “It really just takes a phone call and an outreach (to your child’s classroom teacher)… for peace of mind.  And we want to build those relationships.  We’ve always wanted to build those relationships.”

Courtney Davidson said the progress she’s seen with Sam’s tutoring suggests most kids can rise to the challenge of summer school.  “Oh, yes!”  said Davidson.  I’m an optimistic person!  For sure.  I think kids are resilient, and I think they’ll catch up.”

*Source:  Horace Mann Educators Corporation Survey of 941 U.S. educators, including public school K-12 teachers, administrators, and support personnel, conducted in February and March, 2021.

Links to Resources:

  • DMPS Community Schools — “meaningful partnerships between families, schools, and the community leading to improved student learning, thriving families and vibrant Des Moines neighborhoods.”
  • DMPS FLEX Academy — “non-traditional 21st century classrooms that provide students with credit recovery through personalized instructional plans”
  • DMPS Options Academy — “for Des Moines Public Schools students who need a new path to their high school diploma.”
  • DMPS Virtual Campus — “online high school– designed and taught by DMPS educators – to provide greater equity of access and opportunity for success to all students.”
  • Lange Learning Center — Angela Lange, Tutor/teacher
  • ESSA Support — “tools and resources to support the work aligned to Iowa’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Plan.”

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