During the pandemic, the switch to virtual learning caused a setback in schools across the country.
Studies from McKinsey and Company estimated Black and brown students fell behind eight to 12 months, compared to white peers who lost up to six months of learning outside the classroom.
But the Oakland School District is using a first-of-its-kind program to make sure no child is left behind. KIPP Bridge Academy students have returned to the classroom after a rough year and half of virtual learning. Just over a year ago, many students here were on the verge of falling behind.
“When the pandemic hit, I believe that we were in the most sunken place when it came to education,” said Lakisha Young, mother of three.
Young says the pandemic only exposed existing historic failures within the education system.
“This is like legacy and generations of failure,” she said.
Before the pandemic, only 30% of the children in the Oakland School District were able to read at grade level.
“This can’t happen,” said Young. “We cannot allow this to be a moment of failure. We cannot allow this to be a moment of deficit.”
Young knew she would have to act fast or students, especially those underserved in Black and brown communities, would not pass.
In March 2020, she created a parent-advocacy organization called The Oakland REACH, a first-of-its-kind program designed to fill the education gap, meeting parents and students where they are.
The program has a special hub outside of normal school hours, and its licensed teachers are paired with young participants. Through virtual class sessions, students work with a teacher to improve their vocabulary and other areas of struggle.
In many cases, The Oakland REACH provides more than just academic assistance. The group helped families address technology challenges, from broken school computers to not having internet access.
“I know that having the hub saved her social ability because they had science classes,” said Toni Rochelle Baker, an Oakland REACH family liaison.
Baker ensures families within the organization are equipped with the resources to stay ahead.
“They make sure no kid is left behind,” she said.
The Oakland REACH also meets the needs of parents who have struggled to keep food on the table while learning fell through the cracks.
“I feel like because I wasn’t as hands-on as I typically am, it also brought on a lack of confidence,” said mom Shawnie Bennett.
In 2020, Bennett lost her brother and her job, all within a few months. The program raised money to help her and other families in need.
“That was to get cash in hand to families to pay for rent, pay for the cellphone bill, get groceries, whatever they needed to do to sustain,” said Young.
So far, Young has partnered with the Oakland School District to Implement this program in six elementary schools.
“The first five weeks of our hub, 60% of our kids went up two or more reading levels on the district-wide assessment and 30% went up three or more,” said Young.
She’s already seeing signs of big progress in more than 500 participants. And the Oakland School District agrees. Its superintendent noting in a statement significant improvement in literacy skills.
After months in the program, KIPP Bridge Academy third grader Xaviar Bennett-Bryant is finally seeing her own hard work paying off.
“They really helped me with my reading because I went up three levels,” said Xaviar.