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Davis Journal

CARES funds boost first grade reading scores

Sep 02, 2021 11:36AM ● By Anna Pro

Mia Lavender and Lydia Olsen work on a science project during a summer camp at Woods Cross Elementary. The school used CARES funds to help students raise test scores during the 2020/2021 school year. Photo by Becky Ginos

WOODS CROSS—When schools shut down in 2020 so did a lot of kids’ learning. In an effort to help those children catch up, Woods Cross Elementary used CARES funds donated by the city to bolster first-graders who needed extra attention.

“We were very concerned when the pandemic shut down schools in March because that’s a key learning time for kindergarten students,” said Woods Cross Elementary Principal Buck Ekstrom. “A lot of learning happens in March and April. Children can’t learn as well online as in the classroom with a teacher.”

Reading scores for those children coming in as first graders were at 30 percent of proficiency level, he said. “We were concerned that would affect the rest of their academic career and they would be behind if we didn’t get that fixed. Teachers were aware it was a big hill to climb.”

Ekstrom said they had been looking for some resources and one of the teachers mentioned the city’s CARE funds that could be used for the community. “It’s been an incredible partnership (with the city). We hired a certified teacher and assistant that intervened all day long with first graders until the funding ran out, basically from December to May.”

It was a team effort and made a huge difference, he said. “It was primarily first graders and some second graders who were first graders last year.”

There was actually a significant percentage of students who stayed online,” said Ekstrom. “Some jumped back and forth frequently which was problematic. It might be parents who are scared about the pandemic or their work schedule changes and they have to send the kids back. Roughly 50 students chose to stay online. That’s 10 percent of our school.”

The teachers did a great job and overcame huge obstacles throughout the pandemic, he said. “At the beginning of the year kids only came half time with masks. It’s hard for kids to learn when they can’t see the teacher’s mouth when forming words, etc. Then a couple of months later we brought all the kids together. We saw behavior issues increase instantly.”

Attendance has also been a big issue, said Ekstrom. “In the case of COVID they have to quarantine so naturally we have to send kids home. But now we have to send kids home with a simple cold when normally they would have come to school.”

However, Ekstrom said they’re really seeing the benefits of the CARES funds. “By the end of the year those scores were up to 72 percent. That’s phenomenal growth. We applied the money mostly to that group of first graders. The teachers worked in small groups of three or four students at a time and repeated, practiced and intervened with basic reading skills. It was a major contributor to those scores.”

What the teachers did was miraculous, he said. “I thought we’d have some teachers quit but they all came back and they’re excited. We have phenomenal teachers.”