Step up for students

by Courtney Brown ([email protected]) 160 views 

The Saturday farmers market was closed, but the River Market was packed to near capacity for the Little Rock School District’s (LRSD) Spirit Fest with excited kids, educators and families. The large, diverse crowd was a long-awaited and welcome sight, particularly as students, teachers and schools recover from the effects of COVID-19.

The pandemic exposed—and continues to bring to light—long-standing challenges in our educational field, from inequitable broadband access to inadequate mental health resources. It also reaffirmed the importance of City Year’s mission: to provide all students with the academic, emotional and social support they need to achieve their full potential.

Since our City Year site was established nearly two decades ago, our AmeriCorps members have made an incredible impact on the community, shaping the lives of tens of thousands of central Arkansas children and their own. Like everyone else, COVID-19 threw us for a loop. But, alongside our LRSD partner schools, we pivoted to virtual service and forged ahead.

Now, post-pandemic, we’re doubling down on our efforts to ensure students feel reconnected with their schools and re-engaged with their learning. We must look no further than the 2022 Nation’s Report Card for motivation. According to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, average scores for Arkansas fourth- and eighth-grade students fell significantly compared to 2019 pre-pandemic test results, including in math and reading.

The scores, while alarming, underscore what City Year Little Rock has long known: that schools play a critical role in students’ academic growth, well-being and future success.

Every year, we deploy AmeriCorps members, ages 17-25, to serve as student success coaches in the LRSD. With support from dedicated educators, these young adults offer in-person, integrated academic and social-emotional skill development. From the opening bell through after-school programs, they provide one-on-one tutoring, offer small-group instruction, build near-peer relationships and foster a sense of belonging—all to increase students’ attendance and learning engagement. And it works. Data consistently shows that schools that partner with City Year are more likely to improve proficiency rates in math and English assessments.

COVID-19 magnified the obstacles many students experience. But it also reaffirmed how offering them additional academic, emotional and social support can positively shift their trajectories. As we continue to recover from the pandemic, we encourage all Arkansans to use the latest Nation’s Report Card as an impetus to step up for our students—whether by attending community events like LRSD’s Spirit Fest, volunteering in a local classroom or contributing to a proven nonprofit like City Year Little Rock for Giving Tuesday.

Editor’s note: Courtney Brown is the director of impact for City Year Little Rock, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping students and schools succeed. The opinions expressed are those of the author.