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In the News: Local Nonprofits are Trying to Tackle Learning Loss in DC

August 30, 2021 / Local News

By Nicole DiAntonio; original article and video at https://www.wusa9.com/article/entertainment/television/programs/get-up-dc/local-nonprofits-are-trying-to-tackle-learning-loss-in-dc/65-3cc8eca6-e6d8-4671-b1b6-e30f7bb5a148.

WASHINGTON — As many students return to in-person learning, a lot of parents are wondering how our local school districts plan to address learning loss caused by the pandemic.

With standardized test scores showing an increasing education gap locally and around the nation, volunteers at one area nonprofit offer programs, including afterschool tutoring.

Gina Burd, with the nonprofit Horton’s Kids, said they have seen first-hand how the pandemic continues to impact local students.

“It’s staggering what the pandemic has done, especially to under-resourced communities,” said Burd, Senior Director of Academics at Horton’s Kids.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Burd said their big focus was on getting technology into the hands of students.

“At the beginning of the pandemic there was definitely a need for technology, particularly reliable hotspots and we were able to provide anyone who needed that the technology that the kids needed to log on to school and be successful in school,” said Burd.

This school year, they are providing additional resources, including high-intensity tutoring support to help address learning loss caused by the pandemic.

“There’s a lot of concerns. Over the summer, one thing that my team and I learned is that our kindergarten students, who will be first graders next year, couldn’t recognize their letters,” said Burd.

EmpowerK12 estimates that for students east of the river, the shift to remote school put third through eighth grade students nearly four months behind in literacy and five months behind in math.

This is the most recent report from the fall of 2020. Now some worry the learning loss could be even worse.

“Definitely in ward 8, the learning loss is greater. As an under-resourced community, there is food and security. There’s one metro stop near the neighborhoods and it’s more than a mile away so systemically and structurally, things are much more difficult,” said Burd.

“I think the needs are very profound this year, and they were large to begin with quite frankly,” said Tom Pollak, the Director of DC Tutoring and Mentoring Initiative.

Tom Pollak founded the group DC Tutoring and Mentoring Initiative in in 2016, inspired by a desire to help nonprofits in the DMV.

“There’s a lot of effort this year to try and get more volunteer tutors,” said Pollak.

The organization supports more than 50 nonprofits across the DMV. He said this year there has been a big push to find more volunteers.

“There’s also increasing recognition that we especially need to get more volunteers into the schools where the kids who most need the support are going to be found,” said Pollak.

Despite these serious challenges, Horton’s Kids has found that the children and families we serve are resilient and driven to excel.

“During the pandemic, what was hard was making sure kids were engaged online for school. A lot of kids were expected to be online from 9 to 3. That was the biggest struggle so having kids go back to school in person this year is huge,” said Burd.

Horton’s Kids serves nearly 500 children in grades K-12 who are living in Wellington Park and Stanton Oaks in Ward 8.

“We do a lot of help with food insecurity, a lot of scheduling of doctors appointments and then we also do things for parents like résumé writing and those types of things. For kids grades pre-K through 12, we provide a lot of afterschool support,” said Burd.

Even during the pandemic, Burd said 100% of their seniors graduated from high school in June.

If you would like to help, you don’t need a teaching background. Experts said they are looking for caring adults who are willing to commit their time for the long term.

“We stress that if you have a caring heart, sign up! We will do our best to find you a good volunteer opportunity they can make a real difference,” said Pollak.

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