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Boys & Girls Clubs of Ada County work to close learning gap caused by pandemic

Students in all grades receive after-school homework help through the Power Hour program.

BOISE, Idaho — Students are still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learning loss is something children experience every year when they come back to school after summer break. However, this year is a little different; kids are still getting caught up after remote learning during the pandemic.

“COVID-19 didn't do kids any kind of favors with, you know, having extended periods away from school and their teachers,” Boys & Girls Clubs of Ada County Executive Director, Colleen Braga said.

The Boys & Girls Club is working to close the learning gap through their Power Hour program – an after-school homework help program.

Director of Programs Darnisha Orcutt said about 40 kids attend Power Hour on any given day. The organization has eight different locations throughout Ada County and serves 3,000 students yearly.

NWEA, a research-based, not-for-profit organization that specializes in student assessments, recently published a study comparing pre-pandemic academic achievement to the 2021-2022 school year.

Test scores show students of all ages experienced learning loss because of the pandemic, but that older students were impacted more severely.

Researchers expect it will take the average elementary school student at least three years to fully recover from the effects of COVID-19. For older students, it will take much longer.

While students are now “rebounding,” the study indicates there is still a long way to go. Orcutt said they are simply meeting kids where they are at.

“We’ve just found that we have to pivot and adapt to whatever's happening,” Orcutt said, “which is kind of our concentration is okay, what is the need? How do we meet that need?”  

Braga said it takes a team of people to ensure students are where they need to be academically. There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to student success.

“If there's food insecurity, if there's domestic violence happening, if there's other things that put stressors on them, all of that affects the ability to learn,” Braga said.

Typically, students spent 45 minutes to an hour at Power Hour diving into their school work. Orcutt said they focus on developing basic skills. 

For younger students, she said staff focus a lot on literacy and making sure children are ready to “read to learn” once they reach fourth grade.

Creating a positive environment to learn is a big priority, Orcutt said.

“We’ve had kids who were isolated for the duration of COVID,” Orcutt said. “Coming back, we just have seen a lot of change in personalities, a lot more introversion than I think we’re used to. We're trying to ensure that we have the support in place to really get them feeling like their most authentic and prepared to handle [the] post-pandemic world.”

There are corporate sponsors working to ensure the Boys & Girls Club fulfills their mission. AT&T donated $25,000 to the Ada County Power Hour program on Tuesday.

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