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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

'Covid grads' aren't ready for college

A top student at his Milwaukee high school, Angel Hope won college scholarships and chose the University of Wisconsin at Madison, writes AP's Collin Binkley. But, when he faced the university's math placement test, he was "lost."

"I feel like I didn't really learn anything" in more than two years of pandemic disruption, he says. School felt "optional."

Nearly a third of Hope’s high school career was spent at home, in virtual classes that were hard to follow and easy to brush aside. Some days he skipped school to work extra hours at his job. Some days he played games with his brother and sister. Other days he just stayed in bed.
Algebra got little of his attention, but his teachers kept giving him good grades amid a school-wide push for leniency.

Many Milwaukee 12th-graders were allowed to spend half the school day working part-time jobs, says Allison Wagner, who runs a scholarship and college program. In some cases, they didn’t take math or science classes their senior year because there was no teacher available. Her group is spending more on tutoring and paying for the college-bound to take summer classes in math or science.

Angel Hope studies math in the University of Wisconsin-Madison's summer bridge program. Photo: Carrie Antlfinger/AP

Across the country, colleges are expanding summer "bridge" programs to help students rebuild math, science and study skills, writes Binkley. "In Kentucky, which gave colleges $3.5 million for the effort this year, officials called it a 'moral imperative'.”

Angel Hope signed up for University of Wisconsin's six-week summer program, learning the math he missed in high school and preparing to take calculus in the fall. He revived his study skills, and "got used to the rhythms of school, with assignments every day and tests every other week," writes Binkley. "He rediscovered what it’s like to enjoy school."

But less-motivated teenagers aren't showing up for summer school. Fewer are enrolling in college and some have given up on high school.

In Los Angeles Unified, which starts the new year on Aug. 15, 10,000 to 20,000 students went missing last year, said Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho. When he tried to reach 50 missing students and their families, he talked to teens who were "caring for their younger siblings . . . and working one, two jobs," he said.

"The district is also confronting a worsening daily attendance problem," reports Howard Blume in the Los Angeles Times. "Data in March 2022 showed that nearly half of LAUSD students — more than 200,000 children — were chronically absent during the last school year."

As Angel Hope puts it, school feels "optional" now.

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