If anything was clear from 2020, innovation and adaptability are the foundations of a sustainable and thriving community. While I am relieved to know COVID-19 vaccinations are underway, the long-term effects of this pandemic are still unknown. How will global health be managed moving forward? When will our economy recover from closures and unemployment? And, one area I’m particularly concerned about, when will all children return to in-person learning, and how will the cumulative hours spent learning at home impact their future?
Fortunately, I do believe this move to remote K-12 learning is only temporary. But what keeps me up at night is the potential long-term effects that this disruption will have on our students—particularly those more vulnerable to disruption. According to STAR Assessment results of 5.3 million students, schools reported lower rates of achievement in the areas of math and reading in 2020. And based on student assessments conducted in January 2019 and during the initial months of the pandemic in 2020, Sylvan Learning confirmed that students’ grades 3-8 are roughly three months behind in skill knowledge. And as John Bielinski, senior director of research & development at FastBridge, noted, "the data shows that we’ve reached a critical point. If we don’t place greater emphasis on remedying losses now, achievement gaps are likely to widen later."
Parents Can’t Do It Alone
Last Spring, when schools first closed their doors, a wave of panic rushed over many parents. How would they ensure their children properly finish up their school year from home? How would they keep an eye on their kids while juggling their own remote work situations? Like many parents, I came to terms with the fact that my kids weren’t going back to school anytime soon and got creative with their learning setup. I turned my dining room into a classroom. I got my kids computers, chairs, and headphones, and I buckled up for a few more months of balancing being a parent, a teacher, and a full-time executive director running the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation.
I'm certainly not alone. One of our incredible Cornerstone employees, Payal Shah, Director of Content Strategy and Operations at Cornerstone, who is working remotely with her husband and school-aged daughter while also completing an eMBA, candidly shared her experience:
"Both my husband and I find ourselves wearing multiple hats—employee, parent, teacher, student, cook, cleaner, son, daughter. On any given day, we are hosting virtual meetings and working on deliverables while answering all clarifying questions and assisting our second-grade daughter to the best of our ability during her asynchronous study time. We would love to spend our afternoons teaching our daughter math and reading books, but with so many demands, it’s not always possible to give her the one-on-one educational support she requires right now."
For all parents, keeping your kids on task during the school day while managing your own work obligations feels nearly impossible, even for those lucky enough to have flexible schedules and generous vacation time.
Partnering with Sylvan Learning
We at Cornerstone have taken this issue to heart. Late last year, we kicked off a collaboration with one of our long-time customers, Sylvan Learning, a leading provider of personalized tutoring for students in grades K-12. Together, we created a program called Always Learning @Home to provide discounted tutoring to the school-aged children of our employees. The tutoring sessions are held virtually and consist of one-on-one lessons with certified tutors with an emphasis on math skills and reading comprehension.
This is more than just a timely perk for our employees. This type of supplemental educational support is an important tool for minimizing education loss and achievement gaps as a result of the pandemic. In fact, according to an open letter to President-elect Joe Biden proposing a solution for healing the massive learning losses of our students in math and reading, the Center for Research and Reform at Johns Hopkins University revealed new research suggesting the most effective strategy for struggling students is one-to-one tutoring.
Based on the initial rollout, the program has been well-received by Cornerstone employees across the U.S. Over 100 tutoring sessions have been completed to-date, and that number is expected to grow as students return to classes in the new year. Payal, who I mentioned above, was one of the first to join the program, elaborated on her experience:
"When we found a tutor that could understand my child’s needs, pace and interest, I could see the immediate benefit of this program. In addition to providing helpful resources for me and my husband to review with our daughter, the tutor we are working with makes the sessions engaging using creative learning techniques to teach math. Never before have I seen my daughter so excited to learn math, especially in a virtual setting. To witness my child’s academic confidence levels rise during a challenging time is one of the most valuable benefits I could imagine."
Additionally, I was particularly warmed by the responses we heard from employees without school-aged children. They expressed deep appreciation for this benefit from Cornerstone and even offered to further support their colleagues with kids.
Building on the early success of this program, I'm thrilled to share that we are now able to offer Always Learning @Home to our U.S. customers and their employees as well. This means thousands of families around the nation will have the same opportunity to support their children in the coming weeks.
Putting Our People First
Amidst changing circumstances, it’s critical for organizations to re-assess the needs of their people and implement policies and programs that truly put people first. Rooted in the concept of unlocking potential, Cornerstone continues to work towards making learning more accessible through its technology solutions, work with non-profits, and unique people-first policies. Through Always Learning @Home, Cornerstone is not only investing in the wellbeing and success of its people, but is also extending this investment in education to the next generation.