Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Communities and educators address learning loss

This close up image shows the hands of two students working together to solve math problems written in a spiral notebook.
Screen Capture
VPM News Focal Point
Student test scores in math and reading show significant declines.

School closures and challenges with virtual learning during the pandemic are likely contributing factors to the lower test scores within Virginia and across the country. Educators are focused on how to make up ground from the learning losses.  


DELORES SPENCER: How has your summer been?

STUDENT: It's been going good.

DELORES SPENCER: We had said we're going to be tutoring again.

ANGIE MILES: Braden is a rising eighth grade student who lives in Texas. The tutor, who's helping him make progress in his math studies, lives in Virginia.

DELORES SPENCER: But because it's an equation, you have to subtract six from both sides, okay? Well, I just love math, and I want everybody to love it. And I want you to be able to do it and to understand it.

ANGIE MILES: Dolores Spencer retired from Newport News Public Schools in 1991. When the pandemic struck, Mrs. Spencer says she was immediately concerned about student learning loss, so she picked up the virtual chalk.

DELORES SPENCER: Good evening, and welcome to Mrs. Spencer's Math Lab.

ANGIE MILES: Going live on Facebook each week for nearly two years.

DELORES SPENCER: I was 88 years old in 2020 when I started Mrs. Spencer's Math Lab.

ANGIE MILES: She helped all kinds of learners make up lost ground or become more math savvy.

DELORES SPENCER: It was a few at first, but then more people began to listen. And there were parents, there were people who just wanted to review math. There were teachers, there were homeschoolers and there were students.

ANGIE MILES: Within a short time, Mrs. Spencer had more than 1,000 students watching weekly as she demonstrated her math mastery and tailored her lessons to match students’ and parents’ requests.

DELORES SPENCER: I had students watching from all the states basically, and some from overseas. It was far-reaching, much farther-reaching than any book would ever have been. So that was a blessing that I was able to touch that many people.

ANGIE MILES: Mrs. Spencer is still getting requests for tutoring, and she says on her last birthday, she had more than 60,000 good wishes from fans around the globe. And she says the crisis created by the pandemic created a space for her to inspire others to better understand and appreciate math in a way they might not have otherwise. Elsewhere in Hampton Roads, there is a focus on learning loss that is just as urgent, but which extends beyond academics. Students from Norfolk State University have been working with high school students on their classwork, but also on self-awareness and character building to strengthen them in their role as learners. Here we look in on a session of the Picture Your Purpose program.

JOHN STEAN: Take all the different pieces and put them together into one thing that makes sense. Does this line up with where I ultimately want to be? It's a partnership between the Urban League of Hampton Roads, Norfolk State University, and Next Step to Success. We have an overarching program called the Tutoring and Mentoring Initiative that runs during the school year.

ANGIE MILES: What you're seeing is one example of a state-supported local initiative. The Youngkin administration earmarked funds to support students at historically Black colleges and universities, HBCUs, as they support K-12 students in the aftermath of the pandemic. This program is administered through the Urban League.

JOHN STEAN: While many of the factors responding to learning loss are based on standardized test scores and other very tangible metrics, some of the causes can be a little more difficult to identify. I think much of it has to do with the disconnect that students feel from their peers, from their academic careers, from their hopes for the future.

ANGIE MILES: So here, they're focusing on the essential power of connecting or reconnecting.

ANIYA DOSS: Trying to get them to adapt to different environments other than being face-to-face on a computer and not interacting with other humans. So, in that classroom setting, they're able to interact with their peers, their classmates, their teachers knowing how to adapt to different people and different climates in the classroom.

LAFAYETTE ROBINSON III: I'm more of a mentor over at the University of Norfolk State. And so, for me, basically, it's really checking in on my peers, checking in on other members and their mental health, and anywhere I could help them.

JOHN STEAN: Most of our tutoring program takes place during the school year. We support students in their core academic subjects, and we're doing that in a number of different school divisions in the area.

ANGIE MILES: Similar work is happening throughout the state under the direction of other area urban leagues.

WOMAN: Thank you.

ANGIE MILES: In Page County, students have been connecting with one another and with a greater community to support education. This determined group of volunteers is connected through the West Luray Rec Center. Center founder and driving force Audre King has a lot to say about repairing post-pandemic. At the Rec, that means mental health, physical wellbeing, social support, and most certainly, tutoring services.

AUDRE KING: Tutoring was a big undertaking, and one that when we began, we were not expecting to have. Once the pandemic hit and the Honor Society students started coming in two, three days a week to tutor, that's when we really saw a difference and an impact on the students that we had here. 90% of the children that we serve, they come from backgrounds of rather poverty, addiction, have experienced domestic violence. And so, what we try to do is meet all of those needs.

ANGIE MILES: Page County, like every county in Virginia, is relying on as many helping hands and hearts as possible. School Superintendent Antonia Fox says they are effective here when they function like family.

ANTONIA FOX: So, we're pretty fortunate. We have a variety of different groups that are committed to the schools and helping grow the community. So, one is the Rec Center. So many of our kids will go there after school. And they're given food and meals. They're giving counseling, in some cases, group activities, tutoring, assistance with a variety of different things. So that's a great place for kids to go.

ANGIE MILES: And within the division, she says there is a personal dedication to student learning. She says many of these educators grew up attending these schools, and that they are recovering from the pandemic in a unified way.

ANTONIA FOX: I think people are beginning to feel a sense of normalcy. It's different than it was before, but we've kept our doors open, and we've expanded opportunities for kids in terms of clubs and activities. We're providing more afterschool programs and services. If a child needs help with reading, we're finding ways to get them that help, whether it's during the school day or after.

ANGIE MILES: Fox says that while test scores are an important indicator of how well her division and others are dealing with learning loss, she says scores don't tell the whole story of what's happening within a community. Whether the answers come from individuals, community organizations, institutions of higher learning, or from within the school divisions themselves, Virginia's test scores clearly show there is work to do when it comes to helping learners recover from what they lost during the pandemic. Based on the efforts already underway, it seems one important message is that the opportunities to support students in getting back on track extend far beyond their classroom teachers and well beyond core academics.

Angie Miles, Host/Producer, anchors and hosts VPM News Focal Point and special broadcasts.
Related Articles
  1. What’s going on in Virginia’s education system?
  2. Feeling burned out, many teachers are calling it quits
  3. Catching up in the Classroom