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.” Now, more than two years out, the pandemic continues to have a lasting impact on kids and teens.
This story was originally posted on July 20, 2020 and has been updated to reflect current youth needs and Club impact.
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.
Pandemic or not, 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 2020, 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.
Throughout this pandemic, schools have opened, closed, opened, closed – and access to socialization and in-person academic support, WiFi and technology to complete schoolwork, and school lunches many kids depend on all hung in the balance.
The learning gaps and inequities that already existed for many students were widening by the minute.
Many of my students live with parents and family members who have had to keep working jobs in grocery stores, as health aides or at fast food establishments — all of which continue operating and often require overtime and extra staffing as COVID exposure impacts employees. Other caregivers quickly found themselves out of work with no resources to pay for basic needs.
When the pandemic began, we quickly saw that the system that supported these families through meal programs, childcare and education closed. Vulnerable families were even more vulnerable. When I called to check on students who had not logged into our e-learning portal, 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.
And after over 2+ years, these building circumstances have taken a toll on young people’s education, social connection and mental health.
Many of the kids I teach are struggling to keep up in school, and their learning gaps were already consistently more pronounced after breaks from the school year, such as summer. We’re just now beginning to see how multiple interrupted years of schooling and supports are effecting today’s young people.
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 also been frontline workers of this pandemic – calling students to check on them, keeping doors open to provide WiFi and tutoring to keep kids on track and provide support for parents, stepping in to be part of young people’s celebrations and lives in such deep and important ways.
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. As the need for meal programs in many communities continues and inflation rises, Clubs continue to connect families with meals.
Now, our country is shifting to address startling youth mental health needs, with the U.S. Surgeon General flagging youth mental health as a public health crisis. And once again, Clubs are leaning in with mentorship and social connection, safe places and support programs to get kids and families the help they need.
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 help young people move beyond this pandemic and look to brighter futures.
With educational gaps widening and youth mental health needs growing, 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.