Skipping summer break
Schools look for ways to make up for lost time during the pandemic
Summer school may conjure images of students dozing off at their desks in muggy classrooms, desperate to escape and learning little. But after a year of disruption due to the coronavirus pandemic, schools are beefing up summer school offerings, hoping extra hours will help students recover academically and socially. Bankrolled by COVID-19 relief funding, the plans need parent buy-in to succeed.
The lurch to online school last spring and rocky reentry this fall left many students disconnected and discouraged. Schools reported unusually high levels of failing grades, and a March National PTA poll found 63 percent of parents reported their children were behind academically. The most recent stimulus bill required schools to set aside at least 20 percent of their relief money for recovery efforts. Schools can combine tutoring, extra counseling, and other interventions, but almost any plan will require extra classroom hours.
Most schools are expanding pre-existing summer school offerings to find that time. In Chico, Calif., two sessions of summer school will combine academics and enrichment activities, while a third just before the school year will focus on getting students on track for grade-level work. Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota plan to attract students with dance and theater while including academic support in partnership with local public schools. Near Columbus, Ohio, school administrators hope to host 900 students for 2½ hours of reading and math class daily through June. In Lewis County, W.Va., six public schools plan on an open schedule, allowing students to stay the entire day or stop by to pick up a food box and attend a tutoring session.
But summer school isn’t the only way to get more class time. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly urged the state’s schools to consider extended hours or after-school programs. New Jersey Sen. Shirley Turner proposed allowing parents to hold their children back a year, and some school districts are considering Saturday classes.
Schools are relying on stimulus funding to make the programs free to families. They’ll have to cover costs beyond staff: In Michigan, administrators want to outfit classrooms with air conditioning before filling them with students for the summer.
All the proposals will need willing teachers and parents. Fort Worth, Texas, Mayor Betsy Price advocated in February for a longer school year but acknowledged, “It won’t be popular with teachers or with parents.” When Chicago proposed tacking an extra week onto the start of its school year, it received thousands of comments from both sides. “One week isn’t going to make a difference in terms of summer learning loss,” one commenter wrote. “Everyone needs a real summer after the year we’ve had.”
New Jersey Superintendent Tony Trongone told NJ.com he didn’t know if most parents would want to enroll their kids for the summer. “We have to build it so they come,” he said. “That is why the federal government is giving us the support. To build it so they come.”
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