COVID learning gap, program takes hands-on approach

Back on track and making up for a distant school year, a SHARP Literacy is helping students overcome pandemic-related disruptions in an engaging and innovative way.

Huddled around fish with hands-on learning is a far cry from last school year. Students shared their frustrations.

"I was just tired of virtual," said Ke’Arri Whitlow. "Irritated."

Students involved in the SHARP Literacy program.

"I was falling behind," Da’nia Jett said.

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"It was really hard," said Zi’yonna Shorter.

This year seems to be a little more fruitful for students at Browning Elementary School. SHARP Literacy helps combat learning loss.

"I’m learning new things almost every day," said Whitlow.

Students involved in the SHARP Literacy program.

"We knew that this summer was going to be really crucial, and there was a high demand," said Lynda Kohler.

Kohler, SHARP Literacy president and CEO, said programs at the science-focused greenhouse at the Silver Spring Neighborhood Center help bridge the learning gap and address the social-emotional needs of students. Learning the ins and outs of hydroponics, aquaponics and solar dehydration is a stepping stone.

"Teaching them all of these STEAM concepts – how is steam related to the greenhouse," Kohler said. "We have a monitoring system, so it automatically feeds the fish, (students) can look online and see what the pH is, and the water temperature. All of this fun stuff is really educational."

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It leads into an academic program, which kicks off in October.

"We do assessments to see where they are at…really revise our program to ensure we are making the biggest impact on them," said Kohler.

Creating programs around barriers to ensure equity, students are now back in the classroom and looking forward to growth.

"I was so happy and excited," Shorter said.

Students involved in the SHARP Literacy program.

SHARP Literacy serves around 9,000 students a year at more than 48 schools with programs at Milwaukee Public Schools, choice and charter schools and the School District of Waukesha.

In 2021, SHARP Literacy was one of more than 200 partners nationwide that received a total of nearly $1.9 million in grants from the American Family Insurance Dreams Foundation to close equity gaps and address significant community needs.

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