Jax charter school establishes major focus on helping students catch up from pandemic learning loss

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Students in Duval County now officially have the first day of school under their belt. The major focus will be on health and safety during the pandemic, but schools are also working to make sure students don’t fall behind in class.

Action News Jax’s Courtney Cole visited Jacksonville Classical Academy, a local charter school, to learn how they’re planning to combat learning loss during the pandemic.

“I’m excited to see all the children back in the building,” said Dr. David Withun, head of school of Jacksonville Classical Academy.

Kiersten Chism, a 7th grader at the school and also Scholar of the Year, told me she’s excited to be back, too.

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“It’s a very nervous day for me, because having to start everything over--and meeting new students-- is a great opportunity,” Chism explained to Cole ahead of making her way to class on Tuesday morning.

Dr. Withun told Action News Jax they’ve spent the whole summer planning for nearly 800 students to return this year. He said last [school] year they started with 450.

“We’ve spent a lot of time planning. Specifically, math remediation, reading remediation and trying to meet all of our students where they are,” he said.

During the Duval County Public Schools Back-to-School press conference held last week, Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene said the learning loss experienced as a result of the pandemic can not be ignored. She continued by saying that having students in our schools is necessary for their academic success.

“With the school being in its first year last year, they were drawing students from everywhere in Duval, students from every zip code in Duval. And we had a significant portion of students who were coming in well below grade level in reading and well below grade level in math,” said Dr. Withun.

I reached out to Jacksonville Classical Academy to dig deeper into the number of students that were below grade level in reading and math.

At the start of the of 2020-2021 school year, Jacksonville Classical Academy said 28% of students were on grade level for math. By the end of the school year, 48% were on grade level.

43% of students were on grade level for reading at the start of the 2020-2021 school year and by the end that number rose to 64%.

Kiersten’s mother, Wondra Riase, tells me her daughter is looking forward to a much better year.

“The curriculum, I love it, my daughter has excelled. She came in challenged, and she has exceeded all of her goals,” Riase said.

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Jacksonville Classical Academy told Action News Jax a small number of students will be repeating a grade level, but the school says their focus is on school-wide remediation in the first few years.

The charter school told Cole they offered free after-school tutoring last year and will be offering it again this school year as well.