NEWARK, NJ. — When most students are getting ready for bed, these kids are logging on for kindergarten night school.
"When I tell people my son is in night school and what time his school starts, they’re like, 'Night school? I didn't know they had that for kindergarten,'" said Kimberly Hyman, whose 6-year-old son, Ian, is in the evening learning program run by KIPP charter school in New Jersey.
It’s a strategy that’s helped grown-ups for years, and now, it’s helping the youngest students stay on track through the pandemic.
The two-hour, nightly classes allow single mom Kimberly Hyman to keep her son in school while working overnight shifts.
"I would have to make sure I was up by 7, something to make sure he's started school and I got off at 5:30 in the morning, so it was very overwhelming and I just couldn't do it no more," said Hyman.
She said she did everything she could to get Ian logged in for his morning classes, but he ended up missing a lot of school.
"I didn't want him to be late because that's not a great way to start off your kid’s education, so it was just difficult," said Hyman. "It got to a point where I had to ask Ian can he help me? I told him to wake me up."
With his attendance so inconsistent, she worried about the long-term impacts on her son’s education.
"I was very scared because, you know, if they miss a day that makes a difference," said Hyman.
That fear is a reality for tens of thousands of students across the country who aren’t logging into remote learning regularly.
Experts said students will lose an average of four months of learning time because of shutdowns during the pandemic.
Younger students have a greater chance of falling behind, and educators say it could take years to catch up.
"This is the age where they have to learn their letters. They have to learn their letter sounds. They learn their numbers, and then once they get up to the higher grades, they don't teach that anymore. They're just the kids, are just hopefully expected to know that," said kindergarten teacher Meredith Eger.
Eger said without the night program, her students would be missing key developmental windows to learn those critical skills.
"There were some kids that weren't on from the first day of school, and they were not on for the whole month of September and almost mid-October," said Eger. "I've definitely seen some kids fall behind, but the evening program has really helped pick them up."
For 6-year-old Ian, night school has made all the difference.
"Night school is more better," said the young student. "It has more teachers, they teach more sight words."
The evening learning program has more teachers per student than regular classes do, and there is more time for individual teachers to work with each student. The program is helping the students get the specialized attention they may not get otherwise.
It's helping the parents as well, and even though Hyman has a new job working typical hours, she said she is going to keep Ian in the evening learning program as long as she can.
"I love the fact that I feel like I'm a more hands-on parent now because I'm right here while he's in school," said Hyman. "I'm right here every day making sure that he's getting his education."
She said she feels blessed to be part of the education, helping her 6-year-old son grow into the scientist he wants to be.