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Failure rates in math and English jumped as much as sixfold for some of the most vulnerable students in Maryland’s largest school system (MCPS), according to data released as the pandemic’s toll becomes increasingly visible in schools across the country. In but one stark example, according to a December report in the Washington Post, more than 36 percent of ninth-graders from low-income families failed the first marking period in English. That compares with fewer than six percent last year, when the same students took English in eighth grade.

Summer Youth Camp staff member
Mary Mukherjee

The College’s Workforce Development and Continuing Education (WDCE) division responded to these concerns with innovative new academic programming.

WDCE’s Kids’ College provides the Essential Series, Study Sessions, and Online Small Group Tutoring classes, taught by instructors from the Yang Academy, a Gaithersburg-based private, K–12 day school with unique opportunities for students in mathematics and science. In the Essential Series, students will review essential content and refine their problem-solving skills. Study Sessions are designed for students to receive and offer math academic support from each other and from instructors from Yang Academy. In this model, students help each other under the direction of an instructor. In Online Small Group Tutoring, students receive individual tutoring help from a Yang Academy instructor.

“We have three different ways of supporting students academically,” said Mary Mukherjee, WDCE’s senior program director of youth programs. “We also have a host of programs that allow students to interact with each other in a learning environment with nonacademic topics. Some programs even provide students the opportunity to earn Student Service Learning (SSL) hours.”

WDCE offers a variety of classes and activities for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade. During the pandemic, most all of these classes transitioned online. WDCE offers academic support, as well as classes in subjects students will not receive in school, such as study skills, botany, crocheting, art, keyboarding, and more.

We have three different ways of supporting students academically, We also have a host of programs that allow students to interact with each other in a learning environment with nonacademic topics.

After getting feedback from parents, WDCE expanded their offerings. “Providing SSL courses, delivering online instruction in entertaining ways, and offering classes in essential skills are all part of the package. These ways that MC is ensuring the intellectual and interpersonal growth of students,” said Dorothy Umans, dean for community education and extended learning services.

Summer Youth Camp staff member
Dorothy Umans

“While planning the fall program, we recognized that students had questions and needed a way to ask for help from an instructor, and possibly, their peers,” said Mukherjee.

To respond to the new virtual learning and teaching format, programmers developed the Essentials Series to ensure students learned all required information. As an added benefit, some of the classes offer SSL opportunities.

Mukherjee recognized some students wanted one-on-one help, but she had to find a way to make it affordable. She set up the format of Study Sessions so an instructor works with a maximum group of four students at a time. “We believe students can also learn from each other—and from hearing another student’s question,” Mukherjee said. The hour-and-a-half-long sessions afford students ample time to ask questions.

Yang Academy, a longtime partner of WDCE, consistently receives extremely high evaluations and responses from students and parents. “Our academic partnerships allow us to provide the most pertinent, most advanced academic support to meet everyone’s needs,” Mukherjee said. “We are here to support the youth of Montgomery County and are open to any suggestions students and families have.”

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