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Academic gains during COVID-19


Destiny Harden serves as an AmeriCorps member in a fourth-grade English Language Arts (ELA) classroom at North Shore Elementary School on the Edleman Family Foundation team.

At the beginning of the school year at North Shore Elementary School, Destiny received her focus list – a list of students she was to work with throughout the year. As she worked in a fourth-grade ELA classroom, she immediately went to work to improve each student’s reading level, defined by their Lexile score. She went over each of her students’ start-of-year data to show them how they could improve by the end of fourth grade. When she got to James*, Destiny noticed his Lexile classified him as a beginner reader with a -5 L reading level – well below the level required for fourth grade. She wondered how he had fallen so far behind and made it a priority to help him through this year to get him back on track.

COVID-19 halted our everyday lives as we knew them, especially progress at school. Since students are tested in the spring semester of third grade, Destiny’s fourth grade students didn’t get to take their reading level test when they began school this year. This means students who were already behind in third grade had fallen farther behind. Disruptions caused by COVID-19 meant their needs weren’t identified a year ago, and they lost valuable individual instruction time last year that would have helped them catch up. This was the case with James.

As Destiny began to work with him, she noticed James had trouble matching words to pictures – such as “eye”, “cow” and “school” – in addition to having difficulty writing. James recognized that he was behind the other students, which caused him to become frustrated and act out in class.

Destiny and her partner teacher came up with an individualized plan to get James back on track. They gave James leveled work in the classroom and ensured that other students wouldn’t see him getting different work to not draw unwanted attention. Also, Destiny worked one-on-one with him most days to work on his phonics and reading. By spring, she had logged a total of 660 minutes of individualized instruction time with James. Each of these minutes was consequential in his growth and confidence as a reader.

When Lexile testing came around again, it was clear that everyone’s hard work had paid off. James’s Lexile score rose to 240 L – that is a 245-point increase over six months! He can now easily match pictures to words such as “eye”, “cow” and “school” and can read more fluidly. James now is able to pay more attention in class and has the confidence to ask for help when he needs it. While he isn’t at a fourth-grade reading level yet, James will continue to grow exponentially as he moves into fifth grade next year. Gaining confidence in himself and foundational phonics skills has prepared him for success as he moves forward in school.

James’ story is what a successful partnership looks like and a great example of the impact City Year’s work has on our students. Having Destiny in the classroom and able to pull James out for one-on-one instruction enabled her partner teacher to serve both James and each of her other students in the classroom more efficiently. City Year AmeriCorps members work alongside their partner teachers to create student success plans that lead to stories of immense growth such as James’s. This is what happens when we place another loving, caring and empowering adult in the lives of our students.

Do you or a young leader you know want to make a profound impact on the students in Jacksonville? Apply today!

*Student’s name changed for privacy and protection.

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