More than one year after Virginia became the first state in the nation to close all public and private schools to help slow the spread of COVID-19, the learning gaps left by those closures are becoming apparent.
The Virginia Department of Education reported in January that a significantly higher number of kindergartners and first graders are struggling to learn to read, based on a comparison of scores on the Phonological Awareness Literary Screening, or PALS test, administered to kindergarteners through third-graders in the state. This past fall, 27% of kindergartners and 28% of first-graders failed to meet benchmarks, compared to the 2019 figures of 17% and 18%, respectively.
In addition to academic skills, students have missed the daily routines of school, such as walking in a line, sharing with others, raising hands to ask a question and other habits. Students preparing to enter kindergarten in the fall of 2021 may never have learned these skills, as many preschools were not operating in-person.
The Rappahannock Area YMCA has had its eye on the needs of families and children in the Fredericksburg region throughout the pandemic. From offering childcare services to first responders and other essential workers, to using Y facilities for blood drives, food distribution and vaccine clinics, the Y has played a role in the community response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Focus on Academic Readiness
As it rolls out summer programming, the Y is focusing across all of its branches on preparing students for a successful return to school in the fall.
“We are doing all we can to bridge the gap, as we know that many children have not reached the level they needed to in their current school year,” said Alicia Kindred, executive director at the Ron Rosner Family YMCA in Spotsylvania County.
Summer camps and programming will have built-in academic components designed to help students continue to make progress on academic skills—all while having the summer camp experience the YMCA is known for.
This includes programming for multiple age groups. The following programs are enrolling now:
This half-day camp for children ages 3-5 has always been known for helping kids learn through play. In addition to a variety of fun activities, including water play, sports and games, this year’s Kindercamp will also instill some of the skills children will need to succeed in kindergarten, including classroom skills like raising hands, walking in a line and asking for help from the teacher.
YMCA Summer Day Camp
This full-day camp for school-age children will give kids plenty of outdoor and active time, along with the games, songs and ceremonies that make camp special. This year, the day camps will include academic programming that will be delivered in a fun atmosphere to help kids enrich their reading, math and STEM skills. Each day will also include dedicated reading time.
Power Scholars Academy
The YMCA is working with the Stafford, Spotsylvania and King George county public schools to expand its Power Scholars summer school programming this year. This will allow the schools to continue to deliver learning to at-risk students for a four-week summer session, while also giving students fun, camp-like enrichment activities to build both skills and fun memories. Participants are identified through their schools for participation in this program. In 2019, Power Scholars students gained an average of 2.5 months of math skills and 3 months of reading skills over the course of the program.
All camps will follow all CDC and Virginia Department of Social Services protocols for operating safe child care facilities amid the pandemic.
Kindred said the Y first started seeing the need for summer academics when school systems began asking for help expanding the Power Scholars program. She said it was apparent that more academic help would be needed, and that the Y could help the community by adding academic programming to its existing summer camps.
“Even if a child isn’t going to summer school, we know there is a need for some academic support,” she said. “We are here to be a community resource, and we want our community to come out of this successfully, without the pandemic compromising people any more than they already have been.”
The Y is seeking community donations to help facilitate its Power Scholars Academy. The organization also provides scholarships and will expand capacity as much as possible to make its camp programs accessible to as many children in the community as possible.
“We don’t want to turn anyone away,” Kindred said.
The Rappahannock Area YMCA has set a $500,000 fundraising goal to help rebuild its impact programs, including Power Scholars, in 2021. To donate, visit family-ymca.org/support-the-y/donate.