Overdeck Family Foundation was created with the mission to open doors for every child in the U.S. by measurably enhancing education both inside and outside the classroom. As grantmakers, we provide funding and support to help organizations unlock innovation, evidence, and growth, with the ultimate goal of identifying and scaling cost-effective, sustainable programs and solutions that accelerate improvement in key academic and socioemotional outcomes for all children. This back-to-school season, our mission feels more poignant than ever as classrooms across the country settle in for a pivotal year of learning following several pandemic-related disruptions.
To bring our work to life, we turn to our grantee partners. Year-round, these organizations create powerful moments of learning transformation, empowerment, and joy for the families and educators they serve. Today, we’re thrilled to share three stories, captured from schools, communities, and homes, that provide a glimpse into the meaningful impact the programs we fund have on people’s lives each day.
Read on to see how targeted coaching can make all the difference for parents of infants and toddlers, how a dose of healthy competition can inspire students, and how high-dosage tutoring can make an immediate difference in children’s skills and confidence.
Uncovering opportunities for early language interaction with LENA
Early language development is predictive of success on later assessments of language, mathematics, and reading, but many caregivers lack the knowledge and resources to support their infants in developing the stepping stones to speaking.
The nonprofit LENA works to support infants’ and toddlers’ brain development through parent coaching, including an evidence-based “talk pedometer” that measures caregiver-child interactions. Caregivers receive valuable feedback on the quantity and quality of their spoken interactions, with tips on increasing interactive talk.
In conversation with the LENA team earlier this year, Lily Garcia, a parent of three in Phoenix, AZ, shared her experience working from home while raising her infant daughter, Mia, during the pandemic. “We honestly just do everything at home, but I feel bad because I can’t give [my children] my undivided attention,” said Lily. “My husband and I always do our best to make sure one of us is available, but it’s not easy. I look for online programs that we can do virtually.”
When her daughter was four months old, Lily had the opportunity to participate in LENA Start through her local Phoenix Public Library in Arizona. When she received her LENA Reports, she saw easy-to-follow guidance to help foster her daughter’s language development. “It wasn’t until I took the program that it finally clicked . . . I was able to see it on the report, that when you have more screen time, there’s less interaction. That, to me, was very impactful. There’s these missed opportunities.”
She added, “These programs that you offer to the community are so invaluable. Honestly, I think it’s really going to make an impact on our community. I want to keep my kids on track, but I want to see [this for] other kids, too, in our community.”
The Phoenix Public Library first offered LENA Start in 2019 and to date, the site has served 205 families, like the Garcias, in 20 different groups. Across all Phoenix Public Library groups, children who entered the program experiencing the least amount of interactive talk moved from the 23rd to the 38th percentile in conversational turns by the end of the program, and those same children saw their developmental snapshot percentiles increase from the 25th to 44th percentile.
Finding community and excitement for learning through NBA Math Hoops
Joy Bryson has been teaching in the School District of Philadelphia for 23 years. Three years ago, as a fifth-grade teacher, she heard about Learn Fresh’s NBA Math Hoops from a colleague. Today, Joy works across classrooms as a school-based teacher leader managing her school’s Math Hoops program. “Deciding to teach Math Hoops was an easy decision for me because of the fun I’ve had with it as a teacher and the impact it’s had on student engagement.”
Math Hoops is a community program that includes a board game, mobile app, and curriculum designed to help elementary and middle school students learn fundamental math skills while running a fantasy basketball team. Last season, students who completed the program achieved 35 percent gains in math fluency, compared to just 24 percent gains for students who did not participate.
“Similar to how children learn to read in elementary school and then transition to ‘reading to learn,’ students need to be able to learn math so they can eventually learn what math can do in the world,” said Joy. Over the years, she has watched as students built math fluency through the game, becoming faster with basic math skills. But, there are also social-emotional benefits: “The board game builds a community among the students, and allows them to let their guards down while math skill building is happening in the background. Kids learn how to put their differences aside and they know that they’re in a safe place.”
Similar to how children learn to read in elementary school and then transition to ‘reading to learn,’ students need to be able to learn math so they can eventually learn what math can do in the world.
In 2020, Joy had a fifth-grade student qualify for the NBA Math Hoops National Championship—an exciting moment for the school. “This particular student was experiencing some difficulties, but he was able to make it to the championship because he built that math fluency skill and confidence through this program.” Joy remembers one particular moment of sportsmanship when another student, the fifth grader’s Math Hoops partner, made a surprise video encouraging his teammate before the championship. “I asked myself, when else does this happen?” said Joy. “It’s powerful to be able to say to your administrator that you’re doing math and working on the objectives the school needs to meet, but also building community in the classroom.” Due to the disruption caused by the pandemic, the fifth grader was finally able to go to the national championship two years later, in 2022.
This school year, students nationwide will continue to work with teammates and build their skills, in the hope of one day competing against other students from across the U.S. in a NBA Math Hoops national tournament.
Gaining new confidence in math with the New Jersey Tutoring Corps
This summer, approximately 2,000 New Jersey elementary students are receiving high-dosage math and literacy tutoring through the New Jersey Tutoring Corps. This tutoring program was launched in 2021 by Overdeck Family Foundation in partnership with the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund, The College of New Jersey, the Boys & Girls Clubs of New Jersey, and the Y Alliance of New Jersey. It partners with Boys and Girls Clubs and Y Alliances across the state to match students in grades K-5 with qualified tutors for a minimum of two one-hour sessions per week for seven to nine weeks, depending on the site.
In July, NJ Spotlight News visited a Tutoring Corps site at the Boys & Girls Club of Trenton, NJ to see the summer learning in action. There, the news crew met 11-year-old Uzeer Hodgeshorton, a local student who struggled with math until he started tutoring last year in fifth grade. For Uzeer, the focused support he has received from the New Jersey Tutoring Corps has made a big impact. “[I didn’t really know] math, but my [tutor] did help me out a lot,” said Uzeer. “I barely knew how to divide and multiply, but now I know all of those things.” His favorite part of the tutoring program? He enjoys getting to learn in small groups with other kids his age.
An evaluation of last year’s New Jersey Tutoring Corps summer pilot revealed the program’s ability to positively impact math proficiency and excitement for math among its young participants. In an interview with NJ Spotlight News, Executive Director Katherine Bassett said, “Last summer … an external evaluator found that our students grew by 13 percent to 69 percent in math because last summer that’s all we did was math, then we added literacy, and our students grew significantly.”
Uzeer’s mother has seen “great improvement” from before he participated in the program, to now. Since starting tutoring, Uzeer has brought home A’s and B’s on assignments from school, she explained. He enters sixth grade this fall ready to learn, with newfound skills and confidence in math.
Thank you to Lily Garcia, Joy Bryson, and Uzeer Hodgeshorton for sharing your stories.
Header image courtesy of Learn Fresh/NBA Math Hoops