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New school year brings new challenges as many lag behind from COVID

New school year brings new challenges as many children lag behind from COVID
New school year brings new challenges as many children lag behind from COVID 02:46

OAKLAND - A new, in-person school year is underway in Oakland, and for parents and teachers alike, that means a chance for kids to catch up on learning time lost during COVID.

"It put everybody behind," said Tabetha Young, who's watched her 8-year-old son struggle these past few years.

"This is how I knew he was behind - because he answered a question that I knew he knew. It was a question that I knew he knew, but he didn't recognize it, and that was a problem," Young said.

Roma Groves-Waters, principal of Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, says Young's son isn't alone.

"I averaged about 100 students a day not attending Zoom's because either their parents had to work, or they couldn't have good WiFi connections in their buildings - even though we did give everybody computers and WiFi hotspots. Sometimes, it just didn't work," she said. "We also have about 60% of the students not reading at or above grade level because of the learning loss. So, we lost a lot of time."

But her school is working with a long-time Oakland non-profit, called Children Rising, with a new emphasis on helping kids make up for some of that lost time.

"All they need is a little extra support to catch up, but they need to catch up as quickly as possible," said Jim Wambach, the executive director. "What we see are two things. One is, the foundational reading and math skills are way behind, so they can't really learn at the level they're supposed to learn. But the other thing we see is a significant loss of confidence."

The organization matches volunteer tutors with struggling elementary school-aged students, from around a dozen title one schools in Oakland's low-income neighborhoods, for weekly one-on-one math and reading sessions. They worked with kids for many years prior to the pandemic, but now, Wambach says the support is even more critical.

"70-80% of the second and third graders that are in the schools that we've been supporting are two or more grade levels behind," he said. "These second graders and third graders, if they don't catch up quickly, they're going to go into middle school and they'll be significantly behind."

Steven Nation is a math tutor who's volunteered at Children Rising for more than 10 years.

"Kids just got behind, they just did," he said. "It's sad, but it is the reality of the situation. COVID just ripped through and did what it did."

He really noticed this when he saw the nature of his sessions change. He says prior to the pandemic, he was helping kids understand and practice arithmetic.

"During COVID, we were helping kids understand numbers. They were really still learning how to count," he said. "They were struggling with doing math - basic addition."

He wants to help kids build confidence, which will help in getting them caught up.

"There's nothing like sitting there helping a kid who's struggling with whatever the problem is and you see it on their face when they get it. The light turns on and it clicks, and the confidence comes in," he said. "That alone really makes it worth all of the effort."

Young's son has worked with a tutor from Children Rising for a while now.

"They helped my son Nicka'i with reading," she said. "He's comfortable with it. It's not timid, it's not, 'Mom I don't know how to read.' That's how he used to start, 'I don't know how to read.' I'd say, 'Don't tell me you don't know how to do it, let's try.' He's trying more now."

The tutoring is helping Tabetha as much as it's helping Nicka'i.

"They helped boost the confidence in my 8-year-old," she said. "I know it's because of the tutoring. It's the tutoring that's helped me be able to find better ways to help my son."

A new year, with newfound excitement and hope the kids will catch up.

"I feel great about the new school year. I'm excited about it. It's a different feel," said Groves-Waters.

"It's the second week of school and he's excited," said Young.

Children Rising is looking to grow. The organization is hoping to recruit, train, and place 160 new tutors this year. To learn more about Children Rising's volunteer tutoring programs, visit

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