CINCINNATI — Most parents have heard of the “summer slide,” the period of time when kids lose some of the skills they gained throughout the school year during a long break.
Now, many students are standing at the edge of the “COVID cliff.” With 2020's summer break attached to weeks of online instruction, the potential for decline in learning is particularly high.
Kids who are entering kindergarten in the fall are most vulnerable to the negative effects of the educational one-two punch. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, children in this age group had to stop attending their pre-K or Headstart programs when the stay-at-home orders began.
One local organization wants to pull these students away from the cliff. The nonprofit Waterford.org is expanding to nine states, including Ohio, to help families with financial hardships prepare their children for school.
Waterford is offering its Upstart Summer Learning Path program to 15,000 families for free. The program includes videos and software to help children learn colors, letters and other skills they need to start kindergarten on the right foot.
“Parents want to do what they can for their kids, but a lot of times they don’t know what that looks like,” said Waterford.org director of public relations Kim Fischer. “Most parents aren’t trained as teachers, so what we want to do is make it easy for them by providing them all the tools that they need.”
Some of the tools that Waterford.org will provide include laptops and WiFi hotspots to families without internet access. In addition to education materials, representatives of the organization said they want families to have equipment to bridge the digital divide. Families will be able to keep the materials even after the summer program is complete.
“We want to fill that gap,” Fischer said. “That’s exactly what we’re trying to do. We’re going to provide this technology for these families just to kind of take some of the stress off their plates, but more importantly to make sure these children are ready to go when they walk into kindergarten.”
Access to technology is key, but Waterford.org will make sure to use that technology to get kids to a first-grade reading level by the time they reach kindergarten. The focus shifts from learning-to-read to reading-to-learn.
“It’s really kind of a holistic approach to helping children learn,” Fischer said.
Ohio families with income at 200% of the poverty line or below are eligible for the summer program and can apply by clicking here.