To give kids what they need, first give them what they want
Your collection of education ideas put forth interesting approaches to help kids recover from pandemic learning loss, but they missed a proven, cost-effective strategy that has emerged in Boston over the past decade (“7 big ideas to fix education,” Page A1, Sept. 27). The 5th Quarter of Learning embeds academics within enrichment, drawing on the expertise of the community’s natural, cultural, and neighborhood assets, to organize learning and skill development during the summer. Kids show up for the fun — whether it’s sailing in Boston Harbor, exploring nature in the Blue Hills, or learning tennis, filmmaking, or entrepreneurship in their neighborhoods — allowing teachers to engage them in academics.
It’s doable. This past summer, more than 100 local programs engaged more than 7,000 Boston students. It’s effective — a RAND Corporation national randomized controlled trial shows that students who attend such programs outperform their peers in math, reading, and key skills. Most important, it’s fun, engaging, and what kids want.
President and executive director
Boston After School & Beyond
Don’t overlook statewide network of after-school programs
Among the “big ideas” in the Globe’s recent front-page feature on education, there were a few brief mentions of after-school programs. However, although the article highlighted the benefits of longer school days, it overlooked that there is a statewide network of after-school programs that already provide expanded learning opportunities for tens of thousands of young people.
After-school programs help eliminate the achievement gap — the educational disparity between youth from low- and high-income families. These programs often incorporate enrichment activities such as art, music, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) projects, and cultural exploration, which expand students’ horizons and cultivate a passion for learning. By nurturing a thirst for knowledge and helping students build skills, these programs not only improve academic performance but also prepare our youth for a successful future.
Massachusetts should look to expand after-school programming. Many schools have successfully leveraged community-based after-school programs to provide support for students struggling academically. More districts should create or expand partnerships with community-based after-school organizations that are ready and willing partners to help tackle the challenges in our educational system as part of a communitywide approach to help students learn.
We must ensure that after-school programs have the resources and ability to work with schools to create meaningful change.
Massachusetts Afterschool Partnership
Crack down on the distraction of cellphones
As a public school teacher, I agree with most of the suggestions on the Globe’s list of how to help students fight declines in test scores after the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there is often one obvious and glaring omission to all of these lists. Let’s follow the lead of France, Finland, the Netherlands, and others to impose restrictions on cellphone use in schools.
According to a University of California, Irvine study, it takes about 23 minutes to get back to a task after looking at a phone. No wonder students are distracted and struggling to learn.
Kids need more sleep, later school start times
Among the suggestions included in “7 big ideas to fix education” were more tutoring, longer school days and years, and other thoughts. Astonishingly, no one mentioned healthy school start times, especially for teenagers.
Early start times are corrosive and dangerous for teenagers, causing academic failure and health issues such as obesity, depression, and even suicidal ideation. By contrast, school districts that have shifted to later start times have found that they lead to higher grades and other improvements in academic performance as well as measurable boosts in teens’ physical and mental health. This is because teens’ circadian rhythms differ from those of adults; kids this age are biologically wired to be asleep at 7:30 a.m., when many Massachusetts high schools start.
Instead of burdening an already burned-out generation of students (and teachers) with more of what doesn’t work, let’s follow the science. By embracing healthy start times (preferably 9 a.m. or later for high school), we can let students truly blossom in school and beyond.
Tilia Klebenov Jacobs
The writer has taught middle and high school and is the founder and chair of the Framingham chapter of Start School Later, a Maryland-based organization advocating for later start times.