As a fifth-grade math teacher, I work with students every day who struggle to keep up with the curriculum when life and school schedules are “regular.”
I was still at my desk after a long day of virtual teaching when the mother of one of my students called me in tears. She wanted to apologize and explain why her daughter hadn't turned in her homework. This mother had lost her job due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and their family was moving into an extended stay hotel that accepted weekly rent payments. She could only afford three more weeks of rent and was scrambling to find another job before their money ran out.
It's easy to understand why schoolwork isn't a top priority for many children experiencing turmoil.
As a fifth-grade math teacher, I work with students every day who struggle to keep up with the curriculum when life and school schedules are “regular.” Before COVID-19, my kids required creative lesson planning and hands-on interaction to ensure they stayed focused and didn't fall behind.
When our school closed in March, I knew the momentum we'd gained all year would slow. We built lesson plans that we hoped would be temporary but soon became the norm. As more time passed, fewer kids were logging into our online system to access and complete assignments. The learning gaps and inequities that already existed were widening by the minute.
Many of my students live with parents and family members who had to keep working during the crisis in grocery stores, as health aides or at fast food establishments — all of which continued operating and required overtime and extra staffing. Other caregivers quickly found themselves out of work with no resources to pay for basic needs.
In a matter of days, the system that supported these families through meal programs, childcare and education closed. Vulnerable families were even more vulnerable. When I called students who had not logged into our e-learning portal to check on them, they shared stories about how this pandemic is affecting their lives that no child should have to endure.
Parents were scrambling to feed their children. Our school adapted quickly to provide lunches, but with no school buses for transportation, working parents had no way to get their kids to our school to pick up meals.
The places kids usually went to access free Wi-Fi, like McDonald's, closed their dining rooms. While our schools provide laptops, many students were unable to participate virtually because they didn't have Internet access at home.
Kids were home alone, often caring for younger siblings while their parents worked to make ends meet.
Many of the kids I teach are struggling to keep up in school, and their learning gaps are consistently more pronounced after summer. Someone recently asked me what happens to the kids who already have learning gaps when schools close and don't reopen for months. My answer is that the gaps keep widening. The inequities continue deepening. That's why Boys & Girls Clubs are so crucial.
Of all of the kids I teach, the ones who attend our local Boys & Girls Club are the most engaged in class. They are the students who step up to help other kids. They volunteer. They continue to turn in their schoolwork on time, even while home alone and sometimes caring for siblings.
The Club provides mentors and tutors who have been calling students to check on them and help complete lesson plans when parents or caregivers aren't available or are unable to provide support. They keep kids focused, engaged, reading and doing math through the summer. Club kids love science because Clubs make it fun, and my students trust them.
For some of my students who would have gone without meals during the pandemic, the Club delivered food to them or provided evening pick-up times to receive bags of groceries. My students were so excited when the Club gave out pizzas one evening. I think it was the normalcy that made them so happy.
If I could get every one of my kids into a Boys & Girls Club, I would. The programs they are exposed to change their lives. They are a safety net for kids and our entire community. And that's precisely what we need right now to endure this.
With kids out of school and educational gaps widening, your donation to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America will help Clubs across the country keep doing whatever it takes to ensure every child has equal access to the resources, trusted mentors and safe learning environments necessary to ensure a great future.