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Amid COVID-19 crisis, districts try to help kids catch up

This week's top stories

1. Using programs before, after school to keep kids on track

Several Long Island districts have turned to online resources and virtual enrichment programs to keep students engaged as some struggle with academics since schools reopened to a mix of remote and in-person classes. Though delivery of education on Long Island has improved, school leaders say they're concerned about students falling behind. National studies have shown that the coronavirus health crisis has set learning back for all students.

Alan Singer, a professor at Hofstra University in Garden City, said he recently noticed his school's student teachers "grappling with keeping kids engaged." He said, "What all kids need is that interaction with teachers, and they need that interaction with classmates — and that interaction is very difficult to generate online."

In an effort to close the gap, some districts are offering free enrichment programs before and after school. In Freeport, the district recently launched two virtual opportunities: a before- and after-school program specifically for English Language Learners, and small-group sessions with teachers twice a week targeting reading and math skills. In Commack, school officials partnered with universities to help create virtual lab experiences for students and held interactive virtual field trips to museums, zoos and historical sites. In Baldwin, the children’s book "Rosie Revere, Engineer," which teaches elementary students a lesson about persistence and hope, is one of the tools used by volunteer educators in a free virtual after-school program that emphasizes making connections and creating hope.

According to global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co., assessment data from the fall showed that students, on average, started school about three months behind in mathematics, while the picture for reading was more positive, with students starting school 1 1/2 months behind historical averages.

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2. LI school bus companies sue 47 school districts

A group of family-owned Long Island school bus companies is seeking nearly $20 million through lawsuits against 47 local school districts that allegedly stopped paying for busing after schools closed early in the pandemic last spring.

  • Baumann Bus, Baumann & Sons Buses, and Acme Bus say they were forced into bankruptcy, according to the lawsuits, leaving more than 1,200 staffers unemployed and ending the Baumann family’s more-than-60-year history of busing children across Long Island.
  • The lawsuits, another ripple effect of the pandemic’s widespread economic fallout, contend the districts breached their contracts with the Ronkonkoma-based companies when they ceased payments during the school shutdowns in the spring, although the districts had the money available to continue covering transportation costs.

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3. Students Sound Off: Listen up teachers and administrators ...

Newsday asked a number of students who appeared in the weekly "Way to Go!" section of the School Notebook in 2020: "What would you change about your school’s hybrid and/or remote-learning models for the second half of the school year?" Here are some of their answers.

  • SAGE SPIEGELMAN, junior, Roslyn High School: One thing I would do differently in the second half of the school year would be to implement a "peer-partner" program, or a "buddy" system. I know that many students are feeling isolated and lonely due to the pandemic and could use a "buddy." Every student would be matched with a peer in their grade.
  • ASHIA R. KELLY, senior, Holy Trinity Diocesan High School, Hicksville: Never in my 12 years of school could I have imagined my senior year turning out like this. It's been a rough transition, but my school has done an amazing job through it all. Here we have cohorts, which means every grade is split in half. Each grade has a fixed location they go to for half the day to log in to online classes, while the other half goes to their live classes.
  • JAKE D'ESPOSITO, senior, Bellport High School: For this school year I have chosen to learn on a fully remote plan. My experience so far has been great, when it works. Either there is a teacher who has not been trained well enough on the new platforms or the platform we are using breaks or crashes. It would have been nice to see more preparation taken by the school so that right from the start my peers and I could get an education comparable to when we are in-person.

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4. Remote learning not so sweet for LI candy seller

They're as familiar as bake sales in school hallways: boxes of chocolate bars sold by students to fund a special trip, catalogs of toys and treats whose sale supports the school choir — and that one co-worker who always asks you to contribute to his kid’s fundraiser.

  • At least one local company — the Melville-based Miss Chocolate — is weathering some nearly impossible conditions. After losing 60% of its business this year and laying off the vast majority of its staff, Miss Chocolate, which has been in existence since 1968, is shifting its focus to virtual fundraisers, shipping directly to buyers or offering curbside pickup.
  • The company's business of selling boxes of candy bars that children typically sell in their school hallways to raise money for trips or senior dues "grinded to a halt. We went from selling a half-million dollars' worth of candy bars last year to $20,000 this year," said Larry Hirschheimer, a co-owner.

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Resources for you

  • has over 1,000 fun and interactive apps and games that help students practice math skills.
  • is children's website that teaches basic English reading and writing skills using games and phonics.
  • has hundreds of free games and activities ranging from jigsaw puzzles to word games

Round of applause

For decades, the Rising Stars Youth Foundation has been renowned for successfully providing a platform for elite travel basketball, educational programs and, in some cases, private school scholarships for students throughout Long Island.

Last month, the nonprofit organization debuted its latest fundraising effort, the Laces for Literacy program — an educational challenge that encourages students to read from a list of culturally diverse books while fundraising to supply similar books to several local school districts.

Executive Director Dan Gimpel said Laces for Literacy served as a virtual alternative to the program’s traditional community service efforts during the holiday season.

"This is just something very positive. We’re big on always trying to be part of something bigger than yourself," he said of the fundraiser, which is set to run through June.

Students will be sponsored for every book they read and will have money donated toward purchasing books for schools seeking to attain a greater number of books featuring diversity.

Chaminade junior Greg Cantwell, who also plays for the boys basketball team, said he’s started the program by reading some of the motivational literature that was offered in the "March" trilogy by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin on the Civil Rights Movement.

"It’s … exciting to know that we are going to put these books in classrooms because it teaches our youth what’s really happening in the world," he said.

Your questions answered

Have questions? Send them to Newsday’s education reporting team will pick one to answer in this space each week.

Which high school sports will return first?

After a nearly 10-month hiatus that was forced last March by the coronavirus pandemic, practice started this week on Long Island for winter sports deemed by New York State as low- or moderate-risk — girls gymnastics, boys swimming, indoor track and field, fencing and bowling.

There are no practices yet for boys and girls basketball, wrestling or competitive cheerleading, all deemed high-risk sports. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration has postponed the start of high-risk sports indefinitely; they will begin after the governor declares them safe and issues guidance on execution.

Section VIII and Section XI, the governing bodies for public school sports in Nassau and Suffolk, respectively, decided in August that no sports would be played during the fall out of an abundance of caution. Instead, each came up with a plan to play three compressed seasons, each approximately eight to nine weeks long, from January to June. Winter sports will compete in January and February, fall sports in March and April and spring sports in May and June.

"It feels good to be back," said Whitman junior and New York State Public High School Athletic Association indoor 300-meter track champion Gianna Paul. "It’s a little bittersweet since we know the season won’t be the same, but it’s nice to see everyone again."

— Find the latest education news at Catherine Carrera can be reached at or on Twitter @CattCarrera.

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