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According to the New Jersey Department of Education’s (NJDOE) Start Strong tests administered last fall, which measured learning loss suffered during the pandemic, College Achieve Public Charter School (CAPS) Paterson outpaced neighboring schools in every grade level assessed in math and reading.
“This sends a clear message: Our strategic curriculum helps lift all students, no matter what challenges we may face,” Dr. Gemar Mills, Chief Academic Officer & Principal of College Achieve Paterson Campus said. “CAPS Paterson serves students with enormous potential yet limited external resources. Even during the most unprecedented times, the heart of what motivates our educators is teaching students to think for themselves. With an individualized approach to learning and steadfast commitment to empowering all scholars, our school has avoided the learning gaps that we’re seeing in so many districts across the state.”
Across New Jersey, the pandemic has dramatically impacted all students, with the most vulnerable students showing the steepest drops. The results from CAPS Paterson are particularly striking, since students, almost all Hispanic and Black, 76% low-income, strengthened standardized test scores during the pandemic.
“These results show when school leaders commit to their students and offer academic interventions that catch students before they really struggle, even a pandemic will have a hard time derailing achievement,” Michael Piscal, CEO & Founder of College Achieve Public Schools said. “We did not want to let even one scholar fall through the cracks during this unprecedented time and if we wanted to prevent learning loss, we knew we had to take care of our students’ hearts and minds so they were even able to learn.”
Schools in the College Achieve network demonstrated strong outcomes on the tests, which they attribute to their rigorous academic model and hands-on support. CAPS schools conducted home visits, provided computers, wi-fi access, free meals and connected with parents personally to see what they needed. In the early days of the pandemic, their schools provided five hours of daily synchronous instruction, personalized tutoring and were among the first schools in New Jersey to open their doors after closing in the spring of 2020.
These supports and interventions were so effective, College Achieve incorporated the programs into their curriculum and school services. They continue to provide tutoring and targeted intervention programs to meet students where they are and make combatting learning loss fun through after-school math and reading clubs. School leaders continue to ramp up social support, knowing the emotional challenges students face impede academic success. At-home visits are now part of the school model, and the school provides uniforms and free laundering. Students now receive two meals per day and families are given gift cards towards groceries and assistance applying for available public funding. Most importantly, students, teachers and families are provided mental health support.
According to an analysis from the New Jersey Public Charter School Association, students in the state’s five largest charter cities–Newark, Trenton, Camden, Jersey City, and Paterson–are 32 percent more likely to approach or meet grade-level standards in ELA and 55 percent more likely to approach or meet grade-level standards in mathematics compared to their traditional district peers. These results clearly demonstrate that public charter schools have accelerated student learning for low-income students of color during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.