New LASD program aims to help struggling students

The Los Altos School District is rolling out a program aimed at providing in-person support for kids struggling most with remote learning.

Dubbed the “LASD+ Program,” small groups of students will receive help with their online classes in a supervised environment. The first groups launched last Monday (Oct. 19) at Almond and Santa Rita schools.

Although remote learning has been an adjustment for all students, its impact has not been felt evenly. Kids with fewer resources have generally faced a tougher time since school campuses closed in March.

“We know that it’s not optimal for anybody right now, but it certainly is taking its toll on some of our kids with the greatest needs,” said Assistant Superintendent Sandra McGonagle. “We’re happy to be able to start our program and really try to make a difference for kids.”

The aim of LASD+ is to provide targeted support for students facing barriers to success in distance learning.

“It’s really rooted in equity,” said Blach Intermediate School Principal Bhavna Narula, who is helping organize the program. “The core purpose is to support students who are at high risk for poor learning outcomes and really bridge the equity gap.”

The district is starting with groups at Santa Rita and Almond because those are the two schools with the greatest number of students needing extra support. Santa Rita and Almond have the highest proportion of socioeconomically disadvantaged students in the district, with 15.8% and 13.1%, respectively, according to state data from 2019. The districtwide average was 6.1%.

The district wants to have at least one LASD+ group at each school, with the potential for more based on need. The size of each group will vary, with an upper limit of 10-14 students.

Bridging the gaps

McGonagle worked with Almond Principal Raquel Matteroli to select students, prioritizing kids who are not attending their online classes. Almond also focused on bringing back students in fourth through sixth grade, who will otherwise stay remote the longest, McGonagle said. Ultimately, LASD+ is intended for students of any grade level.

The district is bringing the broader student population back part time based on grade level, starting with the youngest students first. Transitional kindergarten, kindergarten and first-grade students returned earlier this month.

For LASD+, administrators are aiming to support students with the highest needs, including homeless students, foster youth and those from low-income families.
While some families have been able to stay home with their kids and help them with their online classes, or hire tutors and caregivers, McGonagle said the district knows that not all families have the means to do that. She said her “greatest worry” is that the achievement gap among students will widen as a result of the pandemic.

Although the district has provided Chromebooks and wireless hotspots, some students still have trouble accessing virtual learning, said Oak Avenue School Principal Kimberly Attell, who is helping organize LASD+. Other kids have parents who both work outside the home, making supervision difficult. LASD+ is striving to fill such gaps.

“It’s just providing the space and the support for kids, so that they can have that structure that they might not have at home,” Attell said.

The groups of students will meet on campus daily and work on their online classes, under the supervision of a staff member. That employee, called a “learning assistant,” will work to keep the kids organized and focused on their lessons. He or she also can answer questions and troubleshoot technology issues.

The students will still be learning the curriculum itself through online classes with their teacher. The learning assistant is a classified position, meaning he or she isn’t a credentialed teacher.

“We’ve really talked about seeing this as much more of a mentoring position,” McGonagle said. “(We’re) really trying to encourage and develop relationships so kids really want to come to school and they feel some success.”

Hiring staff to oversee the program has proven a challenge. According to McGonagle, it is taking time to find people willing to work in-person, who also have the necessary skill set for the position.

The district is interviewing applicants and will expand the program to additional schools once staff are in place and administrators have identified eligible students.

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