More than 51,000 Palm Beach County students need 'high levels of support,' district leaders say

Student Academic Support Plan aims to overcome learning losses from 'COVID Slide'
Posted at 6:00 AM, Feb 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-22 07:09:53-05

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — The School District of Palm Beach County is rolling out a new plan to help struggling students get back on track.

According to some school officials, the so-called "COVID Slide" is leading to learning gaps that will take years to overcome.

"It is beyond critical," said Lisa Hirschy, a literacy coach at Orchard View Elementary School in Delray Beach.

Hirschy is passionate about teaching kids to read.

"We are filling in gaps and we are trying to bring them as close to grade level as we can," Hirschy said.

The educator is seeing firsthand how the "COVID Slide" is impacting her students.

"Students who are maybe typically six months to a year behind, you see escalated to an even higher level," Hirschy said.

Those learning gaps are raising red flags for school district leaders.

"Serious enough that we know we're in this for the long haul," said Keith Oswald, the deputy superintendent for the School District of Palm Beach County.

That's why the school district has launched a new Student Academic Support Plan that's identified tens of thousands of students who will need extra help to catch up.

Depending on each student's age and situation, that assistance could involve in-class tutorials, before and after-school lessons, and more.

"We are probably going to see more students participating in some form of summer learning," said Dr. Glenda Sheffield, the chief academic officer for the School District of Palm Beach County. "Some students being invited back to brick-and-mortar, and we are also going to be doing some distance learning during the summer."


"We wanted to make sure we cast a wide net, and any student that needed support that we work on a plan to support them," Oswald said.

The school district said there are about 51,600 students who need high levels of support in English Language Arts and Math. Of those students, about 53% are doing distance learning.

"With the pandemic, our job has gotten even harder," said Orchard View Elementary School Principal Lisa Lee.

Lee said the end of last school year really impacted her young students.

"You were just about to feel confident about your reading as a first or second grader, and then you had to do the rest at home," Lee said. "That is the main gap that we are seeing in our second and third graders."

To help overcome that learning gap, the school works with Delray Beach non-profit organization Roots and Wings. The group funds after-school reading intervention support at eight Title One elementary schools in Palm Beach County.

Those schools include Orchard View Elementary School, Pine Grove Elementary School, Banyan Creek Elementary School, Plumosa School of the Arts, S.D. Spady Elementary School, Village Academy, Coral Sunset Elementary School, and Rolling Green Elementary School.

"If you group kids together that are inspired by a teacher who wants to teach them, and they know what they don't know, you get kids cheering for each other," said Ted Hoskinson, the founder of Roots and Wings. "They all are making gains and they're all happy for each other."

That support is priceless, especially right now.

"We're hopeful that we'll gain at least some of the knowledge that was lost," Hoskinson said.

"Pre-COVID, it was necessary," Hirschy said. "And now during COVID it is beyond critical. It is saving a lot of our students."


Roots and Wings founder talks learning losses

The School District of Palm Beach County invested $10 million to help provide extra help for students from now until the end of the summer, but that's just the first phase of the support plan.

"Everyone right now is thinking outside the box of how creative can we be and can we get in trying to close these gaps with our students, and at the same time, support our teachers," Sheffield said.

"We've got to have that sense of urgency to make this a priority," Oswald said.

For a complete breakdown of the number of students struggling at each school in Palm Beach County, you can look at the chart below.

To learn more about Roots and Wings, click here.