The COVID-19 pandemic leaves educators worried that kids are falling behind, especially in key areas like literacy. Nonprofits on the Coastside are trying to help close that gap.

One, Ayudando Latinos a Soñar, has partnered with University of San Francisco education professor Jane Bleasdale to visit four local farms per week.

Last week, Bleasdale and USF doctoral student Mauricio Diaz De Leon went to Cozzolino Farm. They led literacy exercises, asking the youngest students to practice writing their names and reading aloud to the group. Then, when students’ attention started to wane, it was time for a game of Red Light, Green Light to practice color names and get exercise.

“The kids get to review things and make progress while they are not in school,” parent Clara Serrato said in Spanish. “I love that they come, because they help a lot with the kids, with sports, with social interaction between kids and to learn to read and get help with their letters.”

The program, which was developed out of Bleasdale's Schools, Community and Society class, raised funds to provide age-appropriate books and school supplies for kids to keep at home. And Bleasdale said they have plans to provide every family with a Chromebook laptop and Wi-Fi connection in time for the start of the school year.

Bleasdale said she draws on the individual expertise of her students, like those who are reading specialists, to choose the right books and develop reading strategies for each child individually. They’re also listening to local parents, Bleasdale said, who have been key to the program’s success.

“The parents are really involved,” Bleasdale said. “The parents want to know, what are the things we should be doing with our kids over the summer?”

Bleasdale said the in-person reading program is especially important while kids aren’t able to go to school, so they don’t fall too far behind, and Serrato agreed.

“Education has a huge impact on economics, on everything in the future,” Serrato said. “It’s basically a one-year loss. Even if they complete a grade, a level, they won’t be ready for the next. It has a very large impact.”

Another local parent who works with special education students in the district, who asked to not use her name, said many of her friends and colleagues are worried about learning loss, too. Her two kids look forward to the weekly program. She said, for them, it feels like school, which helps create structure. Plus, she gets to watch as they progress.

She and Bleasdale said families who live in congregate settings at farms might not be feeling the social effects of the pandemic as deeply as others. Many kids are essentially quarantining together. But they both worry that those with no access to technology aren't able to get the resources they need and that there’s a lack of understanding at the school district about the realities farmworking families face — a problem not unique to pandemic times.

“I’m not sure how aware the district and the schools are of where the kids actually live,” she said.

Serrato said the lack of adequate technology means remote learning is less than ideal for her kids, especially because it’s hard for kids to pay attention and stay engaged in class while there are so many distractions. But to her, the threat of the virus is still too great.

“We’re all afraid of the virus because there is no cure or a vaccine,” Serrato said. “I would not like my children to return to school ... not yet, not until the disease subsides,” Serrato said.

On the South Coast, Puente de la Costa Sur is prioritizing literacy and childhood learning programs, too.

After its child care co-op Sueños Unidos was forced to close in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Puente Family Engagement Director Arlae Alston and lead teacher Elvia Morales teamed up to keep the connection with families alive.

Morales calls each of the families every week to check in with them, ask them if they need anything and assess each child’s progress on some learning metrics. She also posts weekly read-aloud videos to Facebook to give the students an opportunity to hear a new story and see a familiar face.

“Now more than ever, we believe families are needing this connection, not only with our organization, but with each other,” Alston said.

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