South Dakota schools help students catch up after learning loss during distance learning.

Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 2:17 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 15, 2021 at 3:01 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - At Explorer Elementary in the Harrisburg School District, it’s feeling like things are getting back to normal.

Jeanine Murphy is an English language teacher, working in small groups with students.

“Any student that has another language spoken in their home or they speak another language, or they have the influence of an adult with another language in their home,” said Murphy. “I service them here to better support their success in the classroom as a multilingual student.”

During the pandemic, Harrisburg schools took a proactive approach to understand learning loss. They worked with Augustana University on a COVID learning loss study and the average loss was about 50 percent. From there, a plan was created.

Cari Olson, the English language coordinator at Explorer Elementary was among the group to develop a strategy.

“So we had staff that was devoted to providing English language development, lessons to our students via zoom,” said Olson.

Extra tutoring was available, more staff was brought in. Even cable companies made internet hookups for kids at home a priority. Director of Instruction and Federal Programs at Harrisburg Schools Michael Amolins says the extra resources made a difference.

“Our team of teachers were able to close that gap by about 75% By the time the holiday break came around in December, and by about 90% by the end of the school year and I think that’s just a huge testament to the incredible staff we have here, and what they were able to do working with our students,” said Amolins.

The South Dakota Department of Education released their state report card Thursday. While some may want to compare learning to previous years, Secretary of Education Tiffany Sanderson says some of the information is not comparable.

“Participation rates this year were down slightly from past years,” said Sanderson.”

Some of the schools didn’t complete the assessments, which is allowable during the pandemic. There was a 95% participating rate for the most recent results, while previous years were 99%. It altered the stats.

Sanderson says a loss of learning during this unique time could be tied to how much students participated.

“They saw impacts to attendance, and they saw groups of students whose learning or academic performance was impacted,” said Sanderson.”

Some of the Covid funding continues through 2024, to help students catch up. The best way to help your child is to reach out.

“You know, having open conversations with educators about where’s my child at,” said Sanderson.”

Back at Explorer Elementary, the staff has chosen to look beyond the academic needs of each student.

“Have access not only connect with, with that child but their entire family and make sure that we have a full support system,” said Amolins.

Last week, Explorer Elementary (Harrisburg) and Platte-Geddes Elementary received the honor of being a 2021 distinguished school from the National organization Elementary and Secondary Education Act Schools. Both schools will be honored at the National Conference in February 2022.

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