Students throughout this country have suffered immeasurably because of this global pandemic. The primary goal of the Bridge the Gap program is to support and enhance the learning of students by mitigating learning loss and bringing students up to grade level standards.
QUALIFICATIONS OF OUR EXCEPTIONAL TEACHERS
The Bridge the Gap program only employs fully credentialed teachers with decades of experience. We are not a tutoring company, we are a consortium of credentialed teachers, with years of experience and dedication to bringing all students up to grade level through standards-based instructional strategies.
Will the priorities of education change as a result of the Pandemic?
Over recent decades our schools have been focused on student achievement as the most important aspect of schooling. Educators have maintained a laser-like focus on test scores, monitoring school performance, evaluating instructional practice, and evaluating the effectiveness of teachers to meet this challenge. However, the COVID crisis may have persuaded many to direct their focus elsewhere. Educators, school systems, and politicians are learning to place a strong importance on caring for the physical and social-emotional aspects of those they serve. Such issues as access to technology, nutrition, day care, and even housing far outweigh worries related to improving test scores. It raises an important question regarding how leaders have been addressing these fundamental issues, and obviously, how they will do so in the future. Yet, an argument continues over how limited time in the classroom should be used.
What positive outcomes may occur in schools because of the Pandemic?
As we continue through this time of stress, anxiety, and the unknown, perhaps we are on a path toward significant and sustained change in our schools. Students are struggling with the pressures of re-engaging in social networks and academic expectations required in most schools. Maybe a renewed vision of education will emerge with the highest priorities focused on equity, caring, and engagement. If so, student achievement might become a by-product of how the whole person is nurtured, rather than a narrow measure of success or failure. As a positive outcome to this crisis, we may step back and reflect on our priorities as educators. The measures of success may be extended beyond student achievement and include the social and emotional growth of students as well.
Unfinished learning (learning gaps) becoming major concern in schools!
Early prediction models estimated that students who returned to school in fall 2020 had only 70% of the learning gains in reading and 50% of the learning gains in mathematics expected during year to year cycle (Kuhfeld & Tarasawa, 2020). A similar study estimated that the number of days of instruction “lost” due to the spring closures alone could add up to 300 days of lost instruction in reading and more than 300 days in mathematics (Center for Research on Education Outcomes, 2020). Midyear 2021 results suggest some of our youngest students, and those historically underserved, have been impacted the most. Unlike previous school years, the number of students who need additional support has increased across all grade levels and categories. The work of addressing and overcoming unfinished learning will be complex and involve a range of nonacademic supports. For many, addressing learning loss must begin with addressing social-emotional wellness, as students need help processing and working through trauma experienced in the past year. For some schools, supportive learning may take the form of partnerships with community organizations, innovative summer and after school programs, or family engagement initiatives. Educators who have performed heroically in the past year to support learning must now balance the exhaustion they feel from the previous year with a renewed resolve to tackle the challenges ahead. Our educators certainly deserve the best possible supports to perform this critical work.
Why learning gaps and learning loss matter?
For some, its difficult to estimate if one ever stops learning, even during a pandemic. We learn everyday whether in school or not. However, when measuring specific skills associated with reading and math proficiency, especially for adolescents, one can calculate if grade level progress is being met from one year to the next year. Maintaining grade level proficiency through each of the thirteen grades (K-12) provides assurances related to higher education pursuits and attributes that result in career achievement. If a student falls behind this metric at any point during a thirteen-year cycle, desired outcomes to achieve a college degree or a preferred career choice also fade.
What should be done for students who are falling behind?
First, we must consider our current situation as a learning opportunity. We must also agree that positive progress will require a focused effort for educators to consider the whole child and provide an “extra dose” of meaningful learning beyond the school day. This is often referred to as accelerated learning. A growing demand for accelerated and intensive short-term educational programs is notable in the USA and internationally. The pace of change has become so rapid that it affects every individual requiring prompt reaction and adaptation to the constantly shifting environment. In short, learning must reach both social and academic domains in order to preserve wholistic health and wellness needs. In particular, schools must account for social emotional learning (SEL) needs and executive functioning (EF) skills with all students, especially those who are falling behind.
Social-Emotional Learning (SEL): What is it?
While SEL is increasingly prominent today, it is not an innovation. SEL has deep roots going back decades (Deluna, 2017; Osborne, 2017). It has been defined as an approach that enhances students’ intrapersonal, interpersonal, and cognitive competence (Weissberg, Duriak, Domitrovich, & Gullatta (2015). SEL is seen as an influence on the quality of the learning environment, as well as its impact on individual students (Denham & Brown, 2010). SEL includes competencies that “involve skills that enable children to calm themselves when angry, initiate friendships and resolve conflicts respectfully, make ethical and safe choices, and contribute constructively to their community” (Payton, Weissberg, Durlack, et al., 2008).
What does the research say about Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in schools?
When students have supportive relationships and opportunities to develop and practice social, emotional, and cognitive skills across many different contexts, academic learning accelerates. Hundreds of studies offer consistent evidence that SEL bolsters academic performance. A landmark meta-analysis (Durlak et al., 2011) that looked across 213 studies involving more than 270,000 students found that:
- SEL interventions increased students’ academic performance by 11 percentile points, compared to students who did not participate.
- Students participating in SEL programs showed improved classroom behavior, an increased ability to manage stress and depression, and better attitudes about themselves, others, and school.
- Additional meta-analyses echoed these findings. Consistency across independent research teams offers strong support that well-implemented SEL programs are beneficial.
What does the research say about Executive Function (EF) and academic achievement?
EF and self-regulation skills are identified as mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Research consistently identifies EF as a strong predictor of adolescents’ academic performance especially in obtaining Twenty-first century skills (flexible thinking, collaborative communication skills, critical thinking skills, digital literacy) that have a direct influence on students’ school and career success. Research has shown that low-income students tend to lag behind their higher-income peers, not only in academic skills, but also in EF proficiency. Therefore, school must include EF proficiency and advancement within their instructional pedagogy.
What can educators do to improve Executive Function (EF) development?
A relatively new option to improve students EF is to incorporate education games, planning, prioritizing, organizing, and strategizing within math and reading instruction. The significant improvements in EF skills in students using these techniques confirm the potential use of games as an EF training tool. Given the motivational draw of games, and the potential beneficial gains to be had with improved EF skills, targeted interventions utilizing the critical focus of games may lead to favorable outcomes for students who struggle with executive control.
Is there financial support for schools to offer “beyond the school day” programs?
The $123 billion infusion to K-12 education in the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act of 2021 offers a critical opportunity to invest in systemic approaches to SEL and EF that fully support students and schools through the pandemic and beyond. Investments in SEL and EF align to the ARP expenditure guidelines. State and local policymakers can help optimize resources by ensuring investments are evidence-based, sustainable, and responsive to the needs of all students including those in historically marginalized communities.
Is investing in a well-articulated SEL program a wise financial investment for schools?
When it comes to school programming, education leaders are often weighing the benefits of investing in new efforts. Cost-benefit research demonstrates the value of SEL programs. The report found an average return on investment for six evidence-based programs of 11 to 1, meaning for every dollar invested there is an $11 return. (Read the 2015 review from Columbia University.)
BRIDGE THE GAP (BTG)
Why was Bridge the Gap created?
As the damaging effects of the Pandemic grew, we at Excelsior Education investigated ways to support our schools and teachers. We knew the virtual, hybrid, and in-person models being implemented would inadvertently leave some students behind. We witnessed staffing shortages, frequent interruptions to the school day, and inconsistent application of COVID protocols resulting in overall learning environments ill equipped to support our most fragile population of students. Furthermore, as unfinished learning persisted, an increasing number of students suffered learning loss with few if any remediation options to support them. We created a unique and fun learning opportunity that also addresses SEL and EF deficiencies.
What is Bridge the Gap (BTG) and how can it help students?
Our BTG system is a custom, virtual platform that pairs students with experienced teachers in small groups of between four and six students. Our teachers lead students through 45-minute, synchronous, after school learning sessions. The number of sessions vary depending on agreements with school officials. Each session begins with a “connect” activity that targets students’ readiness to learn and their willingness to prepare their brains for learning. Our teachers are trained to incorporate the five core competencies recommended by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. Our core academic section bolsters students skills in achieving grade level standards. Each lesson concludes by incorporating educational games to build EF skills.
Our teachers make the difference!
Our teachers are carefully selected to ensure they are experienced and creative with virtual learning formats. On average, our teachers come with fifteen years of experience and a deep passion for making a positive difference in students lives. Our teachers receive meaningful training in SEL/EF strategies, using educational games to increase student engagement, innovations and technology to incorporate into a virtual setting, as well as many other resources to assist them with creating highly engaging activities.
How does the Bridge the Gap platform work?
Participation in BTG begins with the school principal. The school principal will provide BTG with a list of approved students and the number of sessions per week. BTG will then send the students/parents an email inviting them to sign up for BTG program along with a special code. By following the simple instructions, students will enter their personal information to create their student dashboard. On the dashboard students will be able to enter their availability by day and week. Students will be matched with one of our outstanding teachers and will receive email notifications regarding day and time of the sessions. Students will also receive reminder emails prior to a session. In order to join a scheduled session, students will log into their dashboard and click a special link to join their virtual zoom session. Each session will be recorded and available for review up to 365 days from its origin.
What does it cost for my student to participate in after school learning?
Our current model is to work directly with participating schools and to partner with them on providing after school learning opportunities as defined within a school’s categorical budget.
If you have any further question for us at Excelsior Education, please do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected]
RESOURCES AND REFERENCES
The District Leader’s Guide to SEL and Equity: 32 District Leaders Share Advice on Advancing Equity and Social-Emotional Learning.
Games in Education – Game On: Increasing Learning Through Online Games (google.com) – Inventory of education games available by subject area