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How can we help struggling students recover from COVID learning loss? Together.

COVID-19 has caused seismic disruptions in education. As is often the case, low-income, urban children have suffered disproportionately. In Minneapolis and St. Paul, tens of thousands of youth missed nearly a year of in-person learning. Children from low-income families also had significantly less access to technology, live online instruction, and support.

Together, these factors – compounded by racial tensions, violence, and other trauma – have taken a devastating toll on children. Now, as we plan for the coming school year, many are asking: how can we help struggling students move forward?

Through the years, we’ve applied five core strategies that have proven successful for our students – strategies that we believe are essential for helping urban youth persevere and excel in this present moment:

1. Give Students Real Hope

As students walk through the doors of Hope Academy, many have already faced significant challenges. Most of our students are living near or below poverty level, and many have experienced high amounts of trauma. That’s why a core aspect of our mission is to foster hope in God for our students, families, and city.

Beginning in kindergarten, students memorize the Hope Academy Declaration, learning that “God loves me—beyond my imagination” and that “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Third graders study the story of Joseph, and discover that sometimes God allows hard things to happen as part of his bigger story of redemption. Teachers pray with, disciple, and encourage their students daily to help each child know and walk with God.

At Hope Academy, we’ve seen that perseverance doesn’t come by looking inward, but looking upward. Whether you are a parent, teacher, family member or neighbor, you can point a child to Christ in this season. Start by asking God for help. He is for you, and He has made great promises to be your strength.

2. Partner with Parents

Numerous studies have found that, when parents are actively involved at school, children do better academically, socially, and emotionally–and are more likely to succeed long-term (Kelty & Wakabayashi, 2020) [1].

Hope Academy works especially hard to build strong partnerships with urban families, and to equip and support each parent for the success of their child. Teachers personally connect with parents often throughout the year.

We do a “home visit” with every student and their family during the Minnesota Education Association Break. Each year, parents are required to attend two Saturday school parenting workshops, two parent-teacher conferences, and receive parent report cards to provide accountability and celebrate success.

Years of trust-building, investing in relationships, and accountability have resulted in remarkable engagement at Hope Academy. Even during a pandemic, students were actively involved in their classes (with 96% attendance), and 98% of parents completed their conferences.

Schools and parents—partnering together is one of the most important things we can do for our children’s success.

3. Provide Support and Accountability

At Hope Academy, we call all of our students to high standards; and we provide the support and resources they need to excel.

About two thirds of Hope Academy students receive additional academic, social, and emotional/behavioral support—to help them combat the effects of poverty, trauma, and other challenges. Teachers and staff invest significant additional time to build trust and relationships with students, and to understand the root causes of academic and behavioral challenges.

Though there have been many setbacks for the youth of our city, we cannot lower our expectations. This would be a significant injustice. We can, however, invest more time, attention, and support to help each student rise to the challenge. A Christian academy private school is well-equipped to do just that.

At Hope Academy, we’ll be increasing math and reading support in the classroom this coming school year. Parents, we encourage you to visit the library with your children and to spend time reading together every day. If you don’t have children, consider becoming a tutor or mentor. Your time is one of the greatest gifts you can give to a child.

4. Encourage Continued Growth and Excellence

Research shows that low-income youth typically suffer the greatest learning losses during summer (McCombs et al., 2020) [2]. With support from Hope Academy’s summer school program, students are beating these odds. Each year from June to July, our K-8 students receive critical support in areas like math and reading; expand their learning through new subjects and electives; connect with caring teachers and staff; and continue building friendships with their classmates.

This year and next year, summer school will be more important than ever for helping students—especially students from economically disadvantaged families—combat learning loss, trauma, and other challenges, and prepare for success at the next grade level.

5. Work Together to Increase Access

The past 16 months have reminded us of just how much a remarkable, God-centered education is needed for children in Minneapolis. We’re working hard to connect with more families who live in the highest-need areas of our city (with an emphasis on reaching low-income, families of color), and to welcome more students to Hope Academy in the fall.

For 21 years, volunteers, partner organizations, and donors have helped us serve hundreds of families who couldn’t otherwise afford to send their children to a private school, much less a Christian Academy. At Hope Academy, no child is ever turned away for lack of funds. Through our Partner-Student sponsorship program, each family has ‘skin in the game’ and contributes a sacrificial tuition amount (together providing 10% of the cost to educate our students). Hundreds of financial partners generously provide for the remaining 90%—keeping Hope Academy accessible to all. 

Partnering with Hope Academy is a significant way you can support struggling students in Minneapolis. We invite you to learn more here. 

COVID-19 has brought to light many inequities in urban education—inequalities that, sadly, have persisted for many years. But, at Hope Academy, these five strategies are helping urban youth persevere and achieve excellence, year after year.

There is Hope, if we continue to lean on the Lord, work hard, and fight this fight together.

Learn more about Hope Academy’s approach and impact in urban education by watching our Hope in a Half Hour video story.

[1] Kelty, N. E., & Wakabayashi, T. (2020). Family Engagement in Schools: Parent, Educator, and Community Perspectives. SAGE Open, 10(4), 215824402097302. https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244020973024

[2] McCombs, J. S., Augustine, C. H., Pane, J. F., & Schweig, J. (2020). (rep.). Every Summer Counts: A Longitudinal Analysis of Outcomes from the National Summer Learning Project. RAND Corporation. Retrieved from https://www.wallacefoundation.org/knowledge-center/pages/every-summer-counts-a-longitudinal-analysis-of-outcomes-from-the-national-summer-learning-project.aspx

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