With the House’s approval of the American Rescue Plan Act, K-12 district and state education agencies were just lobbed a $126 billion pot of gold to help eradicate the negative impact of the pandemic on our kids. Most notably, for learning loss and returning to school safely, for which states are mandated to reserve 5% of their funding, and districts 20%, specifically for those Title 1 schools with a high concentration of under-resourced communities.
That’s about $520 per student for learning loss alone, but, unfortunately, researchers estimate it would cost five times that to provide the resources needed to really catch them up. This translates into intensive tutoring, summer school, extended day school and our more traditional methods (and salaries) of in-class, en-masse instruction.
But the pandemic is still here. And even for those districts who have opened, not all parents are sending their kids back full time. Here’s the other issue: For one year, school curriculum has “come to them”, on their ChromeBooks, laptops, iPads and phones, and for the most part, they got used to it. So much so, American teens spend an average of nine hours a day in front of screens today, and more than seven of those are spent on mobile phones. Are they all spent doing homework? No. But as educators evaluate how to maximize efficiencies of catching our kids up, a case can be made for a ‘‘fish-where-the-fish-are’ strategy by continuing to leverage this teachable medium with meaningful content they care about, and will engage in.
A New, Digital Day
The Pew Research Center reports that “95% of 13- to 17-year-olds have access to a smartphone.” And while under-resourced areas have suffered from limited access to WiFi over this last year, the federal government is also providing $3.2 billion to an emergency broadband connectivity fund as part of the bill, making accessibility soon to be a non-issue.
While the value of in-person instruction and socialization should persevere, the pandemic forced the immediate implementation of virtual strategies, and our kids adapted. According to Bizly chief strategy officer Kevin Iwamoto, “Gen Z figured out how to develop communities and live in a virtual world.”
San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, the largest geographical county in the nation saw this first hand earlier this year. Hosting its annual, multi-district, STEMapalooza event virtually for the first time, engagement was a concern, as was support for their communities’ STEM-related career pathways. Enter ‘Hack Out BL4CKOUT’, a customized cybersecurity video game deployed at the event to be played from their mobile devices and Chromebooks, simulating real cyber events with a focus on critical thinking, communication, and cyber career facts. Over 3,000 hours of play were logged that day with kids’ asking for more. Exit survey verbatims from 4th-8th graders who attended the event ranged from, “WOW, I had no ideaI I could be making $80,000 a year doing something I love when I grow up” to, “Maybe I’ll go to a Cyber camp.”
Gamifying curriculum isn’t a new concept, but gamifying skills you can use toward grades, in-class rewards, and even a career – and can go wherever you go – is. This is especially important when considering reaching under-resourced, rural communities and inner cities that have been hit hard during the pandemic.
So if other state agencies and school districts can find a sustainable way to engage Gen Z by introducing virtual learning strategies that can entertain and educate by meeting them where they are – on their phones – that learning loss cost per student will be a lot more doable.
And more fun.