Donations improve the way children learn amid lingering COVID concerns


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When COVID-19 forced Claire Mansur to teach her fourth graders in reading online rather than in the classroom, she considered giving up as a teacher.

Students at Gladstone Elementary School in Kansas City, Missouri, which serves a large immigrant and refugee population, were not logging into its virtual classes. They lacked the appropriate technology, their home life was too chaotic in the midst of the first few months of the pandemic, or they just weren’t interested. Mansur felt disconnected from the children who showed up, unsure if they were holding back everything she was teaching them.

Then she got help adjusting to online education from Instruction Partners, a nonprofit education consulting organization that is one of many organizations receiving increased funding from. the foundation. Contributions to the association, including foundation grants, nearly doubled to $ 5.4 million in 2020 from the previous year.

Grantmakers are increasing spending on education, hoping to turn the pandemic into an opportunity to refine the use of educational technology, develop better lesson plans, and connect with families and children. after-school programs that could help reduce student mental health issues due to COVID. They want to help school districts change the way people like Mansur teach, while reducing learning gaps. The support could help reduce teacher burnout and give students a solid foundation in school without the need for remedial education.

At the root of the boom in scholarship funds: Federal education statistics show that those most affected are already students of color, people with disabilities and those whose first language is not native. ‘English.

Some of the foundations that are dramatically increasing their spending include family philanthropies Charles and Lynn Schusterman, which donated $ 105 million in 2020, an increase of $ 42 million from its education grants the year before. . The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has given $ 22 million to directly respond to the challenges of the pandemic through the $ 150 million in education grants it awarded last year. Other increases include an additional $ 20 million in education grants from the Walton Family Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York City, which allocated about $ 9 million from its education grants budget to help meet to the pandemic.

For Mansur, the foundation’s money is already making a difference. Coaching helped her gain the skills she needed and the confidence to continue teaching.

“You basically become an actress,” Mansur said as she learned from their training. “You have to make sure that things on the computer keep moving fast. Everything must have more visuals, more colors and a little more spice. “

In April, Ana Ponce, Executive Director of Great Public Schools Now, began raising funds for the LA Education Recovery Fund, which connects educators with nonprofit after-school programs for students struggling to keep up with their education. . The effort has grossed nearly $ 10 million from donors, including the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Leonard Hill Charitable Trust and the Hearthland Foundation, founded by director Steven Spielberg and his wife and actress, Kate Capshaw. Small donors contributed $ 750,000 to the fund.

The money was used to support summer after-school programs run by 84 nonprofits in 500 schools and community centers in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Philanthropic contributions are minimal compared to the $ 122 billion in the American Rescue Plan Act that the federal government will allocate to schools over the next three years. Executives like Dan Weisberg, chief executive of TNTP, a nonprofit that provides teacher training in 300 school systems, say they hope an injection of money will go into making lasting changes in education. instead of just helping school districts get through another year of COVID.

If some of the federal money is used to expand philanthropy-backed testing projects that aim to make big changes in the way students are educated, rather than short-term emergency items like substitute teachers, Helping with bus schedules and providing laptops, nonprofit leaders hope to minimize some of the long-term damage from missed classes.

The losses and disruptions from the pandemic will not be made up for in a single academic year, Weisberg says. But given the amount of money currently available to fill the learning gap, it could make a big difference.

“If we can’t help the students to excel who come to us with learning gaps, then probably all of the logic behind public education being the great equalizer and a way for kids to achieve the American dream,” is called into question, ”he said. . “It’s a year with extremely high stakes. “

One of the main goals of philanthropic support is to keep students at their grade level without putting them on a catch-up path where they try to relearn lessons from the previous year.

To bring students up to speed, nonprofits backed by foundation grants are devising a redesigned education system in which teachers regularly check on each student’s progress and come up with what LaVerne Evans Srinivasan, vice president of the national curriculum for Carnegie Corporation calls it “just in time”. mini-lessons when needed rather than sending students back to a grade level.

Srinivasan says teachers are called upon to do a lot more because of the pandemic. They are asked to involve students’ families more, master up-to-date course materials that incorporate new technologies, analyze data to track student progress, and pay more attention to health needs. mental health of their students.

“It’s not what teachers are used to doing,” Srinivasan says.

To help teachers, Carnegie and other foundations have invested money in teacher education programs like those offered by the Institute for Student Achievement. Association president Stephanie Wood-Garnett cites the institute’s work with Kensington Health Sciences Academy in Philadelphia as an example of how philanthropy can help.

Three years before the start of the pandemic, says Wood-Garnett, the institute began working with the school. The entire student body is economically disadvantaged, according to a report from the city of Philadelphia, and nearly a quarter of them are not native English speakers.

The association strived to develop a culture at school in which success was expected. In addition to their regular classes, the students were divided into small “advisory groups,” where they could share concerns about academics, home life, or issues with other students. After the groups were formed, the school reported a drop in suspensions and an increase in graduation rates.

The bonds between the students and their staff advisers appear to have continued during the pandemic. Staff counselors were the primary point of contact for families during the transition from online courses.

Wood-Garnett fears that without similar work across the country, many students from poor families and students of color will struggle to stay in grade.

“These students were already affected in disparate ways. The pandemic has only made things worse, ”she said. “There are instances where we have successful students who thrive, but these are students who probably already have a pro learner, pro academic mindset and abilities.”

After struggling at the start of the pandemic, Mansur, the fourth-grade teacher from Kansas City, regained the feeling that teaching is her calling. But she faces other challenges. She’s back in the classroom, teaching a hybrid of in-person and virtual lessons.

Like many teachers and grantmakers, Mansur is concerned about the pandemic’s long-term impact on learning. She doesn’t know how her students are coping. Many were so excited to go back to school, she said. But she noticed that when classes started to get tough, some students who completed a year of virtual learning didn’t stick to it.

“They really like going back to school, but a lot of them are struggling,” she says. “They find it difficult to motivate themselves.

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This article was provided to The Associated Press by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Alex Daniels is a senior reporter at The Chronicle. Email: [email protected] The AP and The Chronicle receive support from the Lilly Endowment for coverage of philanthropy and nonprofit organizations. The AP and the Chronicle are solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s philanthropic coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

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