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DPS on stopping the COVID academic slide: 'It's not going to be easy'

Teachers make plans to address learning gaps that grew during the pandemic.

DENVER — Entering another school year impacted by the pandemic, Melissa Boyd and her staff at the Bruce Randolph School in Denver make plans to fill the anticipated academic gaps.

"There are definitely kids for whom we need to do a lot of learning about when they come back to school in the fall," Boyd said.

Bruce Randolph contains grades 6 through 12 and Boyd said she needs to address students who essentially disappeared during remote learning and COVID.

>Video above is a 9NEWS story from 2020 with tips to navigate remote learning.

"We had some kiddos we didn't see," Boyd said. "Maybe they joined class, but we aren't getting a lot of work. So, we don't always know how much learning occurred."

Dr. Alex Marrero is Superintendent of Denver Public Schools (DPS). He said plans are being made across the district to deal with the expected academic slide that students will suffer during the pandemic. Those numbers are outlined in the latest release of state standardized test scores.

"Once we have that data point, it's going to vary," Marrero said. "The approach is going back to shop, right, and cooking up a pathway of success for each individual student. It's not going to be easy, right, and this is, I guess, one of the challenges of a large system."

RELATED: Denver educators reflect on past year; teaching during COVID-19

Boyd said students will have learning gaps that need to be addressed.

"The other piece is that this is also not gonna be about teaching the prior year's content. This is not remediation teaching," Boyd said.
That's only going to take kids and put them further behind."

Boyd said teachers will have to work with kids one-on-one in extra tutoring sessions to help them move forward and catch up at the same time.

"Having those tutoring opportunities in the building with our Bruce teachers, that's critical, because as our students are moving through the content, their teachers are going to know exactly the areas that they need to strengthen in order to be at grade level," Boyd said.

Some of that type of work has already started. Janet Matthews is one of the educators working with kids in a Summer Learning Intensive Program put on by groups called FaithBridge and the Northeast Denver Innovation Zone.

"I do believe that children will still be struggling to catch up or to close that gap," Matthews said.

Matthews said younger students missed a lot of important social interaction in schools during remote learning.

RELATED: Study shows students experiencing more stress, mental health issues during pandemic

"It sure has made a difference of not being used to being in that kind of environment or what the expectation is in a classroom," Matthews said.

The Daniels Fund paid $190,000 over two years to fund the summer learning program. Vernon Jones Jr. is the executive director of the Northeast Denver Innovation Zone (NDIZ) and said this effort is badly needed in the Park Hill community.

"It can get very ugly if we do not invest and do what needs to be done now," Jones said. "Yeah, there is that level of urgency."

The NDIZ serves kids from six different schools in Park Hill, but it is available to students in Aurora and other programs in the area.

"So, let's get in this together and use these smaller pods or learning circles as we call them to really help kids and parents develop the skills that the need to be as we say liberated through literacy," Jones said.

Matthews said the schools should not have to handle all of the pandemic-related academic deficiencies on their own.

"Exposing kids to more help, more support, knowing that there's people that care about them that want to help them succeed, the more the better," Matthews said.

Jones believes COVID widened the academic gap that already exists between white and minority students.

"Yeah, we lost time. I mean, we have to acknowledge that. We've lost time and we've got to put in the time now to catch up," Jones said.

The question is how much time -- assuming that schools can remain open for in-person learning?

"We had 2019, then, we had an interrupted year roughly 18 months," Marrero said. "I think that we need to at least honor that timeframe. I would say minimum two years for us to really recoup."

Boyd said she will take as long as she needs to get the job done.

"We have had some kids that have not sat in a classroom seat in our school buildings since the start of the pandemic," Boyd said. "I'm just really excited and I know it's going to be challenging. But, given what we have already done, I cannot imagine that's going to be more challenging."

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