Grants support 3 efforts to reduce the education achievement gap

Testing for the most recent academic year confirms that student proficiency in both math and English Language Arts has decreased, with Black, Hispanic, and students from economically disadvantaged households being most severely impacted. 

Data and anecdotal evidence from local teachers, administrators, and other school staff show there are an elevated number of students with social-emotional and mental health needs and a higher need for integrated academic interventions to help close the growing education opportunity gap. 

In response to this problem, the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area (CFHZ) is distributing $130,000 to three organizations to underwrite innovative solutions to help reduce the education opportunity gap. The grants made by CFHZ focus on elementary-age students with a particular emphasis on addressing learning loss in math skills. 

Third graders at Pine Creek Elementary work on a math lesson.

The support is important, says Tim Bearden, West Ottawa Public Schools superintendent. The Holland-area district will use the CFHZ grant for its Project Panther project.

“We are thrilled to partner with CFHZ in supporting West Ottawa students through Project Panther. This program is consistent with our Strategic Plan core value of equity of opportunity by providing an after-school program with no cost or other barriers to students and families. This program addresses a critical need and is part of our multifaceted approach to addressing learning loss. We can’t wait to get started,” Bearden says. 

Here is how the grants will be used: 

West Ottawa Public Schools — Project Panther 

Amount Awarded: $60,000 over two years 

Purpose: To help address learning loss and mitigate gaps during the pivotal third-grade year by providing after-school programming and transportation. West Ottawa Public Schools will provide three free six-week after-school program sessions during the academic year that include support for students who have fallen behind or experienced learning loss in math. The program uses application-based problem-solving models that make math fun and interactive. Current teachers, qualified community members, and aspiring teachers will provide the instruction. Transportation will also be included to ensure that any student who qualifies for the program is able to participate. 

Hope College Children’s After School Achievement (CASA) and Step Up — Academic Intervention Specialist 

Amount Awarded: $50,000 over two years

Purpose: To assist Step Up and CASA in hiring an academic intervention specialist to implement personalized academic support during the academic year and summer out-of-school time programming. Together, CASA and Step Up serve up to 145 Holland and West Ottawa public school district students from underrepresented and low-income households in need of additional academic support. These funds will help increase capacity by bringing a new position to support both students and tutors in math and general study skills, including working directly with students in small-group and individual sessions. 

ODC Network — Summer Program Student Recruitment and Staff Training 

Amount Awarded: $20,000 

Purpose: To help fund a six-week summer program that combines outdoor education with academic interventions for K-5 students in the greater Holland area, prioritizing students from economically disadvantaged households who are behind in grade-level reading/math expectations. Research shows that these students are most at-risk for experiencing learning loss during the summer school break. Outdoor Discovery Center’s ODC Network program offers experiential learning combined with literacy and math activities led by trained contract educators. The program will take place at five sites across the community, with transportation and lunch made available in partnership with local school districts. 

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Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.