CHICAGO — A handful of recent studies have found just how far the nation’s students have fallen behind since the pandemic began.
Similar to what’s known as the “summer slide,” educators are trying to help students bounce back from pandemic learning loss. One county has created an innovative way to connect educators and administrators from all over the country in order to create content for children who are in dire need of a knowledge booster.
Inside the Cook County, Illinois production studio, D is the letter of today.
Jasmin Cardenas, an actress and bilingual storyteller, tries to inject energy and passion into every performance on camera.
“I fell in love with Mister Rogers and LeVar Burton growing up and watching Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow, and I felt like they knew me,” said Cardenas, who works on the county’s Project Rainbow programming. “So, I hope that the kids will see me as a friend.”
Project Rainbow is an early education initiative that is county-led. The project brings together more than two dozen partners to create free video content and educational materials for educators in order to fill the gap created by the pandemic.
“What we’ve seen basically for 18 months of the pandemic, the kids have effectively lost two years of schooling,” said former educator and President of the Cook County Board Toni Preckwinkle.
She said that the government was trying to address learning loss across all demographic and geographic areas.
“We’ve also asked our museums, our cultural institutions, to adapt content that they already have for our audience,” said Preckwinkle.
More than two dozen collaborators–including zoos, forest preserves, and the Chicago Children’s Theater– have created and bankrolled the content.
They’ve already produced over 30 hours of educational learning material.
“We really don’t want children to passively watch and observe. We want them to participate,” said Jacqueline Russell, artistic director of the Chicago Children’s Theater. “And so, a lot of what we bring to our content is a way for children to really participate and engage fully.”
“What I find myself doing regularly on camera is pretending I see and hear them so that when I ask them a question, I really do wait to hear how many different answers I can get,” said Cardenas.
Nick Shields was a county public affairs officer and the creator of Project Rainbow. Father of three, Shields was looking for ways to engage his children through quality screen time during the pandemic.
“As a father and seeing my kids at home and seeing some of the content that’s around and available, we felt that there was a space for us,” said Shields.
This space allowed them to create content about wildlife, science and astronomy as well as music.
“We hope, of course, that our Cook County residents will take advantage of it, but the content is available to anyone who has access to the platforms,” said Preckwinkle.
They are already there.
“There was a school system in Thailand that was having all the kids watch this video. And so, we suddenly are just finding that we are reaching children everywhere,” said Russell.
“What we’re trying to do at the end of the day is inform, inspire and impact our kids and families, and it’s my hope that families will feel the same way,” said Shields.
It’s a window to the world for children everywhere to discover during a global pandemic.