On the second day of school at Stevenson Middle School in south Houston, as students filed in from parent drop-off with their backpacks slung over their shoulders and arms full of books, one phrase could be heard repeatedly in the main hallway: “It’s Dragon Time!”
It’s a phrase that Principal Christyn McCloskey said is an important part of the 2021-2022 school year.
“One of the initiatives that we put in place this year is Dragon Time; we are the Stevenson Dragons,” McCloskey said. “It’s where students are getting those intensive small-group interventions. Every single teacher on campus has a Dragon Time group, and they’re all working on figuring out where are the students, what are they working on.”
The new addition is a part of the school’s efforts to address learning loss this school year. Dragon Time is a series of small group learning activities that help students to make up for any learning loss that might have taken place over the summer—or even over the course of the pandemic.
Learning loss—or the summer slide—is the loss of academic skills and knowledge over summer vacation. Typically, that accounts for about 2.5 months of loss in learning, but some national studies have shown that because of the pandemic those losses can be as high as 5.7 months of learning this school year.
Superintendent Millard House toured a pair of middle schools on the first few days of school—Stevenson on the second day, and Attucks Middle School on the first—to learn about each school’s efforts to address that slide.
“Addressing learning loss is always an issue for schools as they return from summer break,” House said. “But for this school year in particular, it’s a top priority. There have been obstacles due to the pandemic over the last year or so, but I am confident that our teachers and our students can more than make up for it.”
Each school is preparing to tackle that obstacle directly, said Attucks Principal Shani Wyllie, in ways unique to each school and even to each student, with student-specific data as the guiding point.
“Prior to the start of the school year, we looked at student data to determine the most effective way to group students in order to meet their needs,” Wyllie said. “We knew that students were going to need to maintain their grade level progress, but we also knew we would need to address the gaps created by COVID.”
That means grouping students based on needs and progress, and then splitting time between maintaining their current grade level progress as well as accelerated instruction based on personal data that helps them make up for the learning loss.
Each student’s need is determined by testing at the beginning of the year, combined with other state test scores and data. Throughout the year, schools will continue to test students to see if they are in the most effective group for their own needs.
It may take some time, but McCloskey assures students and their parents that they are not alone as they try and overcome the issues presented over the past year.
“We are setting up a growth mindset,” she said. “We are making sure that students understand that whatever happened last year, wherever you were last year, this year is a new year. This year we’re going to make it happen and this year we are all learning.”