Intervention program fights COVID learning loss

Published 1:05 pm Friday, October 15, 2021

The Lafayette County School Board has approved the continuation of Mission Acceleration, a program that combats the learning loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know that schools are doing every single thing they can possibly do to overcome hurdles and challenges caused by COVID and continue to do so through the pandemic, but we are aiming to come alongside teachers, schools and community partners,” said Program Director Ashley Sheils.

This past summer, Mission Acceleration launched using COVID relief funding to provide intense tutoring through regular face-to-face lessons, evidence-based reading interventions, an extensive digital library, and meaningful connections with role models. 

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The program is designed to provide high quality instruction and accelerate reading achievement for 1,000 children in Mississippi from kindergarten through fifth grade in Oxford, Tupelo, Starkville, Hattiesburg, Vicksburg, Jackson and Long Beach. 

“We specifically intended to work with communities that already have coalitions and partnerships in place to really boost reading achievement,” said Sheils. “June was our first go at seeing this grant come to life.”

Mission Acceleration worked alongside L.O.U. Reads, a coalition consisting of local organizations and community leaders dedicated to ensuring all children in the Lafayette County, Oxford and University of Mississippi communities read proficiently by the end of third grade.

The pilot program worked with Lafayette Lower Elementary School serves as one of the partner sites during the L.O.U. Reads Summer Scholars Program as an extension of summer school.

Mission Acceleration will return to students they taught during the summer with parents’ permission and provide three sessions a week during the school day in small groups to create a concentrated and intense learning experience, said Lafayette Lower Elementary Principal Paula Gibbs. 

Parents of children who previously attended or those who wanted their children to attend were contacted and re-introduced into the program. Private tutor can cost $60 to $80 per hour, but Mission Acceleration is providing this service free of charge to LOU students.

“The parents have been so supportive of this,” said Gibbs. “When I called them and spoke to them, everyone was like, ‘Yes, immediately.’ They were really excited for their child to have this opportunity to continue.

According to Gibbs, college students from many state universities and colleges were recruited and the program tutors were split between education and non-education majors who can provide diverse and novel thinking.

“[Lafayette Lower Elementary has] been instrumental in identifying children who need this reading support, but are also helping us with using [STAR assessment] data to drive what we do during instruction,” said Sheils.

The data helps tutors know where the children have been affected by learning loss and allows them to provide specialized instruction and Sheils meets with instructors to review their data. The goal is to be as specific to their needs as possible.

Sheils said the students underwent six months of academic growth in four to six weeks, a testament to the program’s effectiveness.

In December, Lafayette Lower Elementary and Mission Acceleration will come together to analyze test results and data from the participating students and decide whether to extend the program into the next school semester.

Sheils hopes to continue Mission Acceleration and that the COVID-19 their eyes to the needs and the concerns of the schools and the community.

“The need is there,” said Sheils. “There are children who need this level of support outside of school and we’re lucky that we can coordinate with the school to provide this support. Beyond now, our goal is to continue this as long as possible.”

For more information about Mission Acceleration, visit www.