As a result of Governor Laura Kelly’s Executive Order 20-07, K-12 schools in the state closed for the remainder of the school year in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Many schools and school districts across the state developed Continuous Learning Plans to support student learning outside of the physical school buildings. With students being out of their physical classrooms for 10-12 weeks and with the summer break upon us, all of this time can lead to what I call the “COVID slide.” Add that to the already known “summer slide,” students may seriously fall back in academic proficiency.

Another Summer with “Big Momma”

“When you go in this store, don’t you touch nothing, because you ain’t getting nothing! Stop asking so many questions in these folks’ store. Will ya’ll please stop asking questions while my show is on?”

These are just a few of the directives I heard my grandparents say when I either went to the store with them or while at their house. Children who spend time with their grandparents will likely hear similar exclamations.

Young children are extremely inquisitive and, in many instances, they are being told they ask too many questions. A question: a sentence worded or expressed so as to elicit information. If I could go back and speak to my grandparents, I would tell them I was simply eliciting information. Asking questions is a form of communication and a huge part of the learning process.

When your child asks questions, they are trying to figure out the world around them by seeking information. As they ask questions, they are developing critical thinking skills that build brain power. So, answer them and use these moments as teaching opportunities.

Using Literacy as a Lever

The research is clear when it comes to literacy and students being able to read by the third grade. In fact, mastering reading by the end of third grade is essential for school success since students begin to transition from learning to read to reading to learn. Children who are not reading on grade level by then are four times more likely to drop out of high school. Among those who do not read well, the dropout rates are twice as high for African-American and Hispanic students as they are for White students.

These achievement gaps were already there, however, the “COVID slide” has made matters worse. According to an EAB study, we can expect a 34% decline in reading RIT (Rausch Unit) scores, which is equivalent to 14 months of learning loss. COVID is also expected to add +20% to the gap between the highest and lowest-performing students.

But there is good news! I always tell my Board, I am not interested in only sharing the research and data, I want to share some solutions as well. Parents can help prevent or slow down the summer and COVID slide. Yes, Big Momma can help too.

• First, answer your child’s questions.

• Make flash cards of letters and sight words and practice with your children. Have them create a story with their sight words.

• Make every possible event about learning. When your show is on (my grandmother’s show was “Wheel of Fortune”), ask your children to identify the vowels and the beginning and ending sounds of the words. Turn closed-caption on and have them read the words.

• Read to your children and have them read to you. Ask questions before, during, and after the story to ensure comprehension.

• Time your children reading passages for a minute to increase fluency. Young children love to play games on parents’ and grandparents’ cell phones. Allow the games to be rewards after they complete some online reading and activities on various sites like YouTube, BookFlix or TrueFlix (Username: Learning20 / Password: Clifford).

This article was submitted by the Kansas African American Affairs Commission.  Dr. Lewis serves on the Commission representing District 2.  

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