These days, parents, teachers and administrators are just trying to get through the school year, day by day, as safely as possible.

That has meant rewriting plans for nearly every aspect of educating, pivoting to online learning and juggling hybrid classrooms. It’s hard to imagine that things could get more challenging than 2020.

But once the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror, another issue will loom: the deficit of learning and its impacts on students.

We already know that students learn at different rates and start out school at different levels of preparedness. Additionally, summer slide is a well-documented phenomenon in which kids — particularly those who aren’t inclined to spend a lot of time reading — take steps backward in their progress.

So, the impact of the pandemic will hit kids differently. But experts already foresee that children of low-income families and people of color will be disproportionately affected.

That’s a particular problem when these are demographics that are already struggling to keep pace with their advantaged peers. Making up the ground of learning loss will be a key strategy for tri-state communities in the next few years, and it will require resources and commitment from multiple stakeholders.

The Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque is already out front on this. The foundation will roll out a new project in the coming months to help address the learning losses that kids are experiencing.

The idea brings together partners, including St. Mark Youth Enrichment, Dubuque Dream Center and Every Child Reads, to focus on building awareness of and expanding access to resources around social-emotional learning and trauma-informed care. The goal is to ensure everyone who impacts children’s lives understands how to best help them learn and grow.

That will require collaboration from many and varied aspects of the community.

Similarly, summer enrichment programs will become all the more vital. It will be a time to rethink old routines and drum up new ideas.

Some of that is already happening.

University of Dubuque, Clarke University and Loras College education students are offering virtual tutoring sessions to local elementary students. Children get help with their schoolwork, and college education students get experience teaching. That’s just one among many programs stepping in to provide tutoring and academic support during a school year marked by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is room for much more help. Mentors, tutors, after-school programs and summer helpers all can contribute to a community effort to make up lost ground.

We know that in myriad aspects, the impact of the pandemic will be felt for years to come. With strategic planning, resources and many volunteers, broadening gaps in education does not have to be one of those aspects.

This guest editorial was published by the Dubuque Telegraph Herald on Nov. 22.

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