June 25, 2020

By Brian Sauer
Citywide Director of Education
Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco


Over the past three months, the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped nearly every aspect of our lives. For young people, one of the biggest impacts has been the closing of schools and the shift to online learning. Even with educators scrambling to keep kids on-track academically, it has become apparent that many students will experience significant setbacks in their academic development.

With the COVID-19 school closures leading right into summer, the amount of time that kids are out of the classroom has doubled to five months. Youth typically experience Summer Learning Loss -- returning to school each fall at a lower academic level than they were at on the last day of school. According to the Brookings Institute which cited a comprehensive review of several findings regarding summer loss: (1) on average, students’ achievement scores declined over summer vacation by one month’s worth of school-year learning, (2) declines were sharper for math than for reading, and (3) the extent of loss was larger at higher grade levels. Importantly, they also concluded that income-based reading gaps grew over the summer, given that middle-class students tended to show improvement in reading skills while lower-income students tended to experience loss. Youth with means are able to improve academic skills in the summer through access to high-quality programs and family support. On the other hand, low-income youth do not have the same advantages. One group advances in the summer while the other group “slides”. This is one of the leading causes of the on-going achievement gap. Now, the effects of Summer Learning Loss are combined with the COVID-19 Slide, exacting even greater negative impact.

Given the findings of this research, Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco (BGCSF) has taken steps to counteract the COVID-19 Slide since March. We discovered that many youth and families found it difficult to engage with remote learning for various reasons, including confusion about how to access the platform, bad or non-existent WIFI, access to hardware, having a quiet space to learn, and being on their own with learning. Our staff offered tutoring, provided classwork and homework support daily, linked youth to technology from the school district or the Club, and conducted wellness checks both in-Club at four locations (these sites remained open throughout the health crisis) and virtually across the city.  

This summer, we are offering intense summer learning at all locations, focusing on literacy and STEM programs. Our summer learning program is designed to counteract the effects of Summer Learning Loss and the COVID-19 Slide. The Club has partnered with Springboard Collaborative, a national nonprofit organization with a mission to coach educators and family members to help kids learn to read by fourth grade. Springboard Collaborative envisions a world in which all children have the requisite literacy skills to access life opportunities. Together, BGCSF and Springboard Collaborative are offering ten workshops over the summer for parents and guardians to teach literacy strategies to be used at home to support children’s learning.

I recently connected with Don Fisher Clubhouse Education Director, Julia Meier, and she emphasized how critical this program is for families this summer. “Right now, with distance learning happening in the home, it’s especially important for us to support and empower parents to help their kids read,” said Julia. Julia and eight other BGCSF staff each completed six hours of training in the Springboard literacy program to help our youth boost their reading skills this summer.

Additionally, BGCSF will be receiving thousands of books this summer for use at the Clubs and to give to families, thanks to a grant provided by Reading is Fundamental. Ultimately, with the help of these partnerships, our goal is to keep kids engaged with the four pillars of literacy: reading, writing, speaking and listening. “I see a real opportunity to uplift our young people’s voices right now,” Julia shared. “I want our members to feel confident in sharing what they value and what they believe. I’m hoping to do that in a fun way by tying it into literacy, tying it into San Francisco, tying it into the world -- but making it fun and easy.”

Additionally, BGCSF’s summer learning program includes an interactive STEM program in partnership with the Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium. Exploratorium staff will be facilitating three live (virtual) tinkering projects – including Spinning and Motion, Light Play, and Electrical Circuits – reaching youth either at home or at one of nine BGCSF locations. Tinkering is a valuable learning experience that provides youth the opportunity to design, test, and adjust their projects. This process taps into problem-solving and critical-thinking skills that are essential across academic subjects. Every youth participant is receiving a STEM kit for each project that includes all of the supplies they will need.

Virtual program leaders like Julia are really being thoughtful in their teaching pedagogy, maximizing youth engagement and creativity while minimizing screen time. “I want youth to be independently using their hands and being creative with little instruction, so that they’re not just staring at the screen watching a science project,” Julia told me.

As the fall approaches, BGCSF is closely tracking the plan for re-opening SFUSD schools. For now, the options appear to be a full virtual model, a hybrid model, or a full reopening of schools. Whatever the outcome of this process, BGCSF will work with youth and families and ensure that Club members have the support and resources they need -- either in Club, virtually, or both.  Although the COVID-19 Slide will have an effect on our Club members, the Club is committed to significantly reducing that impact through strong academic programs … while strengthening the critically-important relationships that Club staff have always had with youth and families.

Read more BGCSF stories, including helpful tips for parents here! Follow @BGCSF and the Exploratorium on social media to see our youth’s tinkering projects shared with the hashtags #ExploringSpinning and #LightUpOurDays.

Brian Sauer has been a leader in the education field in the Bay Area for nearly two decades and has served Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco for five years as Citywide Director of Education. He began his career as an SFUSD classroom teacher, where he taught middle and high school courses in Biology and Mathematics.

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