Nonprofit SA Youth shifts focus to help students in the classroom to combat ‘COVID slide’

Student scores have plummeted by several points in comparison to last year, educators hope to change that

Nonprofit organization SA Youth shifts focus to help students in the classroom to combat ‘COVID slide’
Nonprofit organization SA Youth shifts focus to help students in the classroom to combat ‘COVID slide’

SAN ANTONIO – Educators and parents fear the pandemic’s effects on student’s learning could last for years to come.

Student scores in subjects like math have plummeted by 13-points in comparison to last year, according to information shared in a news release by local nonprofit SA Youth. The Texas Education Agency, or TEA, is labeling this harsh reality as the “COVID slide.”

To combat the dangerous slide, SA Youth has shifted gears and decided to visit students in their schools.

Blake Marlowe is the assistant director of SA Youth’s after-school program “Out-of-School Time,” which currently serves 40 students from the South San Antonio Independent School District.

“We focus on academics enrichment,” Marlowe said. “We’re in the school, which is, I think, a great benefit for a lot of students and parents (because) there’s no (need for) transportation.”

Students who are part of the program begin to arrive as soon as school lets out to begin working on improving on an academic, social and emotional level.

“In the beginning of the (school) year, we didn’t really have a great gauge of where students (stood) academically,” Marlowe said. “We could look at their grades, but that only really tells a part of the story. So, what really kind of made the difference for me (was) going and speaking to their teachers.”

SA Youth teachers have the advantage of being in the school building during the day to visit directly with their student’s teachers.

“(We ask) what are some areas of potential growth? Where can we support them with so we can target our after-school supports to what they need?” Marlowe said.

Two of Marlowe’s students include fourth-grader Allison Magaña and her younger sister Gianna, who is in the first grade.

Sisters Allison Magaña (right) and Gianna (left) are part of SA Youth's after school program in partnership with South San Antonio ISD. (Copyright 2021 by KSAT - All rights reserved.)

“Allison and Gianna are wonderful. They’re great students,” Marlowe said. “Really, all of our students in the program at my site have been wonderful. They come from great families.”

Allison loves schools and volleyball but struggles with one core subject.

“We have lots of math tests (in the classroom) and I have to figure out, like the roots and all that,” Allison said. “It’s hard. Math feels like you’re going to put lots of pressure (on me).”

Since joining SA Youth’s after-school program Allison, her mother and Marlowe have noticed a major difference in her grades and confidence.

“It’s helped me a lot,” Allison said. “He’s teaching me to do it in an easier way than the hard way.”

In the case of Gianna, math is her forte, however, it’s reading and the comprehension tests that follow that stress her out.

“If I read a book, I would get one (comprehension) question wrong, and then if I get the question wrong, like, you get one star off the chart,” Gianna said.

Through the months, Gianna’s reading has become stronger. Gianna attributes the improvement to her teacher, reading more often, and the worksheets and attention she gets during Marlowe’s after-school lessons.

“He helps me a lot with reading,” Gianna said.

1st grader Gianna Magaña's reading and comprehension has improved thanks to the extra help provided by SA Youth's after school program. (Copyright 2021 by KSAT - All rights reserved.)

The program uses worksheets that focus on specific academic skills.

“We give them little activities to do after school focused on different academic skills,” Marlowe said. “We’ll do math one day, grammar and other vocabulary just to kind of hit some different areas. The benefit is we can give them that one-on-one support that they’re not always able to get in class.”

SA Youth said their students look forward to the worksheets.

“It’s like a sea of hands for kids wanting us to come over and check to see how they did,” Marlowe said.

They also love the hands-on activities that keep learning fun.

“The first one we did was about baking, and this was actually Allison’s idea,” Marlowe said. “She was the one who brought it up and the kids voted for it and they decided to do that as their first project.” Allison came up with a baking activity. Hidden in the mix were lessons of science and even her least favorite subject.

Marlowe said the ultimate goal of the program is to give students like Gianna and Allison a boost of confidence in life and in the classroom.

“My hope for all of our students is that they see the potential within themselves,” Marlowe said.

The “Out-of-School Time” program is currently only being offered for students at South San ISD. In order for SA Youth to expand their services, more funding including federal funding, grants and support from foundations or individuals is necessary.

For more on SA Youth’s programs, click here.