Across the country, students are struggling to focus and retain information with online learning, and many feel they are learning less than past years.
While many other cities around the country seemed paralyzed by the pandemic, North Las Vegas decided to do something to help families.
Millions of children across the country have not attended school in person for much of the past year. The results are devastating.
Particularly for low-income and vulnerable students, online learning has been a disaster. Vast numbers of children have simply disappeared from school rolls. Many others have received a sliver of the education they would have otherwise received.
Families are divided. According to a recent EdChoice poll, 54% of parents are uncomfortable sending their children back to school. At the same time, a survey by Education Next found that two-thirds of families participating in remote or hybrid learning believe their child is learning less than they did in person. Schools are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
Or are they? In North Las Vegas, Nev., an entrepreneurial group of civic leaders and educators have decided to try something different. Looking for a way to provide in-person instruction while minimizing the risks of exposure to COVID, they created the Southern Nevada Urban Micro Academy.
Rather than leaving families on their own to manage remote learning, SNUMA opened three learning centers in libraries and recreation centers. First through eighth grade students tackle online math and literacy programs, aligned to state standards, in small clusters overseen by adult guides.
They also have the opportunity for enrichment activities like yoga and foreign language classes, all safely socially distant and COVID-compliant.
According to a recent EdChoice poll, 54% of parents are uncomfortable sending their children back to school. At the same time, a survey by Education Next found that two-thirds of families participating in remote or hybrid learning believe their child is learning less than they did in person. (Photo: Ted S. Warren, AP)
SNUMA is meeting children where they are, engaging them with exciting material, building a supporting community, and creating the kinds of wraparound experiences that make kids excited to attend school.
The results have been outstanding. According to SNUMA’s internal assessments, while 78% of children arrived at the learning centers below grade level in reading and 93% arrived below grade level in math, 62% are now reading above grade level and 100% are doing at least some work at grade level in math.
Satisfaction surveys found 100% of parents either agreeing or strongly agreeing that their child was improving in math and reading; 94% of parents said they were more satisfied with SNUMA than with their child’s previous school.
The need was great. The Clark County School District, which encompasses Las Vegas, is the nation’s fifth-largest, enrolling more than 315,000 students. Those students have been relegated to remote learning since March 2020.
As reported by the New York Times, 18 Clark County students have committed suicide, a sad fact that is pushing the district to get students back into school buildings.
While North Las Vegas students make up about 10% of the students in the Clark County School District, they were 36% of the “lost students” who never connected to the district’s remote learning program.
SNUMA was the brainchild of City Councilwoman Pamela Goynes-Brown. A retired music teacher and school administrator who spent 35 years in the Clark County School District, Goynes-Brown saw the devastating impact of the pandemic and said: “We have got to do something for our babies in North Las Vegas.”
While many other cities around the country seemed paralyzed by the pandemic, North Las Vegas decided to do something to help families. Using CARES Act dollars, they started SNUMA for the children of essential workers before branching out into the general population. For the fall semester, 47 students enrolled. Students are still enrolling for the spring semester, but their enrollment is on track to more than double.
Give parents more options
What lessons can we learn from North Las Vegas?
First, parents need options. When a school district makes a decision, everyone within it has to live with it. If you are comfortable sending your children to school, and teachers are comfortable teaching, but the school board says that it is going remote, the district is going remote.
If you are uncomfortable sending your children to school, and teachers are uncomfortable teaching, but the school board says the district will be open in person, the district will be open in person. The pandemic has shown us the need for more fine-tuned options that better match the needs to families and educators.
Create small learning environments
Second, smaller, more personalized education environments can be a lifeline for struggling students. According to Councilwoman Goynes-Brown, when the pandemic ends, SNUMA will continue. She was too impressed by what the students have accomplished to lose these wonderful learning environments when the crisis is over.
Third, North Las Vegas’ effort shames other cities, many with vastly more resources, that failed to adequately support the children in their care, essentially robbing them of a year of education. North Las Vegas shows there was a different path other communities could have taken if they were open to new ideas and willing to get creative.
For millions of children, the year from March 2020 to March 2021 will be remembered as a dark time in their educational careers. But it won’t for the children of SNUMA.
That is a testament to entrepreneurial civic leaders, innovative educators and brave families willing to take a leap and try something new.
Michael Q. McShane is director of national research and Jason Bedrick is director of policy at EdChoice.
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