Children left behind | Richmond Free Press

In 2002, only about half of Richmond public school students qualified as proficient in reading and math.

And that was an improvement from even lower testing levels recorded before the state’s apprenticeship standards program launched in 1998.

Fast forward 20 years and four superintendents and not much has changed. Let’s not forget that a global pandemic has made education an even more difficult task for educators and students.

So here we are, two decades into a new millennium filled with every technological advancement imaginable and largely developed in innovation centers and universities across the Commonwealth. Electric vehicles. High speed rails. Vanity spaceflight. Cell phones that tell you what you’re thinking before you know what you’re thinking. Devices that speak to you, whether you like it or not.

Yet despite such largesse, at least half, and probably even more, of students still fail in the basic ingredients of education – reading, writing and basic math. Results of Virginia Growth Assessment Tests conducted last fall by the state Department of Education show that students in grades three through eight in Richmond are only reading at a proficiency level 35% for their class and achieve a proficiency level of 10% in mathematics.

Is it any wonder that our statistics in other areas, including teen violence, are off the charts. If one does not succeed in class, one can look for other ways to succeed, even if it only brings disapproval and punishment from society.

Current Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras and his team, acknowledging the situation, won school board approval last summer to pour $65 million from President Biden’s U.S. bailout into a campaign three years to stimulate reading success.

At this point, no data has been released to inform the school community and the wider community if there has been even initial progress. A Free Press inquiry into any signs of progress went unanswered.

There are already concerns that one element of this program, an extended day operation that encouraged additional reading support after the school day ended, is not working as well as expected.

Dr. Tracy Epp, director of studies at RPS, told the school board that improving literacy and helping students make up for lost learning during the pandemic would be key components of programming.

First, the program serves a fraction of the city’s public school students. An October presentation on the program said 1,381 students were enrolled in the 26 elementary schools, or about one in 6 of the 8,450 students recorded as enrolled in grades one through five.

In her October presentation, Dr. Tracy Epp, director of studies at RPS, said parents of students who had fallen behind would be encouraged to get their children involved. But there is no evidence that the majority of students served are those with significant learning loss.

The program was open to everyone and registration, according to Dr. Epp, was closed after the first round due to staffing issues.

RPS relies on three providers to run the extended daytime enrichment program for elementary schools, which the approved 2021 plan envisioned as a major part of the initiative to close the reading learning gap.

Topping the list is the Richmond Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities, which runs programs in 14 schools and has enrolled 635 students, according to the presentation.

According to the DPRCF’s website, the program it calls “Out of School Time” does not include an academic component.

Instead, the program “provides opportunities for young people to engage in arts and crafts, music, dance, nature and the environment, games and sports,” says the website. And there is no problem with that. Arts and sports can both engage students and spill over to academics.

But there is no information showing how the DPRCF’s programming ties in with the RPS literacy initiative. And DPRCF lists a $120 fee to participate in its program, which could limit participation.

The YMCA of Greater Richmond is listed as serving 466 students in seven schools. The YMCA states on its website that it offers homework help, physical activities and a snack. A YMCA staff member said the organization never promised to provide trained educators as staff for its program with Richmond.

And as happened earlier this week at a school, the YMCA had to cancel the program due to insufficient staff. This can create problems for working parents who enroll their children in organized, healthy and safe activities and have to scramble to find an alternative.

The Peter Paul Development Center, which is based in Church Hill, runs five programs in elementary schools in the East End and reports enrollment of 280 students.

It is the only RPS partner that claims on its website to have anything resembling a program related to the Literacy Campaign. Peter Paul states that he provides “school education consistent with the Richmond Public Schools instructional day” as well as “reading and math assistance, enrichment experiences, snacks, meals and transportation “.

At this point, we can only hope that the literacy initiative and its extracurricular component make a difference.

It is high time, for the sake of our children and the future of our city, that every child who attends our public schools leaves with the ability to read, write, add and subtract at least at the level of the fifth year.

It’s time to end the practices that leave half of our children without even the minimum skills needed to successfully navigate the world.


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