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August 15, 2022

Back to School: 3 Strategies to Foster Academic Recovery & Growth

COVID-19 has hit education hard—non-white and low-income students especially.

In a national study on pandemic learning loss, Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research found that Black and Latino students, as well as students from low-income families suffered the greatest learning loss from 2019 to 2021—and that, in high-poverty school districts, remote learning was a large contributing factor.

“This will probably be the largest increase in educational inequity in a generation,” noted Thomas Kane, an author of the study.

To say there is much work to be done would be an understatement. But there are also proven approaches that, when implemented, can help even the most adversely-affected students move forward. Below are three key strategies that can help students recover and gain ground in the wake of the disruptions of the past few years.

1. Provide Targeted Support & Enrichment

There’s overwhelming evidence that tutoring can help students achieve higher academic growth and achievement. But, not all types are equal. In a review of more than 90 studies, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) found:

  • Tutoring interventions by teachers and paraprofessionals have a stronger impact than those by nonprofessionals and parents.
  • Tutoring interventions for students in the earliest grades, during the regular school day, also tend to have stronger positive impacts.

At Hope Academy, hundreds of children K-12 receive this type of support throughout the year. All of our younger students work with teachers and support staff during the regular school day, one-on-one and in small groups. In the upper grades (6-12), students also have the opportunity to visit the Academic Support Center (ASC) for before and after school tutoring. In fact, if students are on academic probation and don’t complete an important assignment, they’re required to visit the ASC after school and to make up their work that same day.

Summer enrichment has also proven to help students—particularly children from low-income families—combat summer learning loss and continue their academic growth. From June to July each year, Hope Academy provides four weeks of support and enriching opportunities to hundreds of students K-11. Across K-5, students read for 45 minutes to an hour each day and enjoy many hands-on activities and field trips throughout this program. Middle school students have math class daily, as well as enriching electives in areas like coding and music production. Through credit recovery classes, teachers help students complete or re-do assignments and stay on track for graduation. Title support is also provided.

Nationwide and at Hope Academy, students’ math and reading scores are not at the levels they were prior to COVID-19. But, there is hope. At Hope Academy, we’ve seen students persevere and continue their growth, despite many significant challenges (and increased disadvantages for low-income, urban youth). In 2021, our students’ average math and reading scores grew from spring to fall—combatting the ‘summer slide.’

Compared to a national sample of more than eight million students who took the NWEA MAP assessment this spring, our students’ average reading scores exceeded the national averages in every grade, 3-8.

Across these grades, our students’ average math scores were also higher than those of schools serving a similar population of students.*

In the coming school year, Hope Academy will continue to provide extra support, especially in math, to foster growth and success for more students in need.

2. Focus on Faith Formation

From analyzing a decade of national survey results and hundreds of interviews, one researcher found that “nonaffluent teens who are intensely religious” (that is, who grow up in a strong, Christian community and develop true faith of their own) “complete more years of education than nonaffluent teenagers who are less religious.”

At Hope Academy, we’ve seen the difference hope in God makes for our students. That’s why our teachers read the Bible and pray with their students. Children learn about God and His Creation and store up His Word in their hearts. Through classroom instruction and discipline—and activities like chapel and mentor groups—teachers help students reflect on deeper heart issues and thinking patterns, look to Christ, and pursue an authentic relationship with Him.

Israel shared: “God has made it possible for me to learn in a school that encourages religious growth. He has put people in my life who remind me of the importance of faith, and he has challenged me to continue to pursue Him.”

Israel graduated from Hope Academy in 2021 and is a first-generation college student at the University of Minnesota-Carlson School of Management. Across all classes, a remarkable 96% of our seniors have graduated on time—nearly one in six on a full-tuition college scholarship!

We want every student to see and experience God’s love and to achieve this kind of success. That’s why we’re continuing to invest in deeper faith formation at Hope Academy. Through an initiative called Teaching for Transformation (TfT), teachers are gaining a common language for communicating important biblical themes to students. They’re learning how to connect each subject to the biblical storyline, and to create hands-on activities that help students apply faith to their lives.

Most importantly, Hope Academy teachers are building Christ-centered relationships with students and their families. One parent shared:

“By inviting us into their families, this community has strengthened our family, which has had a tremendous stabilizing impact on our kids…I know that the love for Christ and the lessons my children have learned here, they’ll continue passing on to their children, and hopefully their grandchildren after that.”

3. Build Strong Relationships & Community

The most successful people can often point to mentors who have helped them along the way. And, as one New York Times article articulates: students are more motivated and learn best from those they love. That’s why it’s so important for students to have access to positive, caring role models. This starts with their parents and teachers, but it can extend even further to coaches, older students, and neighbors in our community.

One of our students shared:

“[At Hope Academy], people want what’s in your best interest. I’ve never had that at other schools. Mrs. Pearce is definitely a person that I’ve connected with. I struggled pretty hard last year just outside of school and she went out of her way to make time once a week to check in. We wouldn’t talk about anything school related—simply just how I was doing, what she could do to help. The standards at Hope Academy are definitely a lot higher but not in a bad way. The teachers have always made sure specifically that I’ve had everything I’ve needed to be successful, and that’s definitely improved my grades a lot.”

Teachers and staff also lead student mentor groups from 6-12th grade, coach student athletic teams, and greet students by name in the hallway each morning. Every year, staff take a group of high school students on mission trips to New Orleans and Puerto Rico. These are all great opportunities to connect with students and have conversations around faith, and to help students build character as they work together on teams.

Many volunteers give their time to help children strengthen their academic skills and grow in their love for learning at Hope Academy. Students work with volunteers on anything from math and reading to LEGO robotics and videography throughout the regular school year and during our four-week summer session.

Through our Partner Program, students have yet another caring adult/family to support and encourage them in their education and faith. Hundreds of generous donors sponsor one or more students to attend Hope Academy—helping to keep tuition affordable for our families. Students write two thank you letters to their Partners throughout the school year. Partners often respond with an encouraging note and spend time praying for their students. They also have the opportunity to visit their student(s) in the classroom at two Partner Day events in the fall and spring.

All of these relationships are helping hundreds of urban youth see that they are valued and loved, and that there are many people who want them to succeed. Students are overcoming significant obstacles and pursuing a higher standard at Hope Academy. Despite COVID-19 and other trauma and chaos in Minneapolis, we had fewer students on academic probation in our upper grades (6-12) throughout 2021-2022.

A remarkable 96% of this year’s seniors graduated on time and have amazing opportunities ahead. Several plan to attend the University of Minnesota, University of Northwestern-St. Paul, New York University, and other colleges and universities locally and nationally.

There’s no denying we’re facing serious challenges in education. But, with the right strategies and a faith-filled perspective, we believe God can do great things in the year ahead.

Hope Academy, contact our Admissions Team. Or find out more about volunteering, employment, or financially supporting Hope at the links provided.

Volunteer at Hope

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*In spring 2022, Hope Academy students’ average math scores exceeded the national averages for high-poverty schools (schools with 75% or more students qualifying for free or reduced price lunch (FRL). During the 2021-2022 school year, 70% of Hope Academy students were FRL-eligible.

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