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Government programming takes aim at pandemic learning loss

Project Rainbow
Posted at 2:23 PM, Sep 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-10 14:23:04-04

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. An innovative effort by one county is connecting local artists, educators, and administrators to produce content for kids in need of a knowledge boost.

Inside the production studio at a Cook County, Illinois building, the letter of the day is D.

Actress and bilingual storyteller Jasmin Cardenas works to infuse energy and passion into her on-camera performance.

“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 a county-led early education initiative. It brings together two dozen partner organizations to produce free video content and learning materials designed by educators to help fill the learning gap brought on 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 says the initiative was a way for the government to step in and address learning loss across the geographic and demographic spectrum.

“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.

Project Rainbow was the brainchild of Nick Shields, a public affairs officer at the county. The father of three was searching for a way to engage his young children with screen time of quality 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.

That space has allowed them to create content around wildlife, science, astronomy, and music.

It’s already available on YouTube, Google Play, and soon, Apple.

“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.

And they already are.

“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.