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Urban School Districts Share Expanded Summer School Programs

  • With catchy program titles and an infusion of federal money, urban school districts across the nation are gearing up for expanded summer school offerings in all grades. 

    They are rolling out virtual and in-person programs to boost prospects of graduation for seniors and to make up for lost ground for students in all grades whose education was disrupted by school closures in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Atlanta Public Schools will offer a full-day program during the month of June aimed at addressing what Superintendent Lisa Herring called “unfinished learning” and academic learning loss for students in grades PK-12. The district has identified a targeted population of about 30,000 students that will be “strongly encouraged” to attend, Herring told WSB-TV 2. 

    “We know staff, teachers, everyone, everyone’s been working so hard this past year, but we know kids are gonna fall through the cracks, things are going to be missed, lessons are going to be forgotten. So it’s important to get back in there and refresh and catch up and all that,” she said. 

    Mornings will have a focus on literacy and math with what Herring termed “power up programming” and in the afternoon courses will include STEM/STEAM, digital citizenship and conflict resolution. Like other districts, Atlanta will run credit recovery academies as well.

    Breakfast and lunch will be provided and students will get two-day, two-meal kits to take home on Fridays. 

    The Cleveland Metropolitan School District has announced a $19.5 million plan to make up for lost learning during the 2020-2021 pandemic, with $10 million budgeted to pay teachers, $3 million for instructional materials and $2 million for books. The personal protective equipment budget is set at $75,000. 

    There will be two four-week sessions with an academic focus in the morning and enrichment with “a strong social-emotional learning focus that is activity-based” in the afternoon, according to a district news release. 

    The district will also offer a summer learning experience for families, with planned workshops on topics, including financial and computer literacy to yoga, meditation and personal development.

    Miami-Dade County Public Schools has dubbed its ambitious program Summer 305 Adventure, with 18 different offerings, either in-person or online. 

    “There will be something for everyone this summer,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said at a recent board meeting, according to the Miami Times. The goals are to lessen learning loss associated by the pandemic and to address achievement and opportunity gaps. Summer enrollment may reach Carvalho’s goal of serving at least 65,000 students—compared with the typical 5,000 students receiving services in past summers.

    About half the district’s 350 schools will be summer school sites, which will offer free breakfast and lunch to all students in attendance. 

    Miami school board member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall said in a statement that she foresees the initiative being “extremely beneficial for our students” and said the district is “working diligently to close the [achievement] gap.” 

    The school system expects to receive about $1.1 billion in federal stimulus dollars, enabling the expanded summer offerings, among other initiatives yet to unfold. 

    Summer Programs to Help Older Students

    Tulsa Public Schools is launching Operation Graduation, with access to one-on-one support to fulfill graduation requirements and a program titled Senior Bootcamp to assist with credit recovery. Its summer programing -- titled Ready. Set. Summer! – will emphasize well-being and re-engagement with peers and the community, according to the district. There will be day camps free of charge and a Summer Café program will provide meals to all Tulsa children aged 18 and under. 

    “We can’t overstate how difficult the pandemic has been on school-aged children and young people,” said Caroline Shaw, executive director of The Opportunity Project, an out-of-school time group that is partnering with the district. “They’ve been separated from friends, teachers, and trusted caring adults at one of the most critical times in their development. At this age, young people learn to form relationships and coping skills, and the pandemic was a major disruption to that.” 

    Shaw said research shows that “before unfinished learning can ever be addressed, schools must help young people build and strengthen relationships, foster engagement with caring adults and peers, and focus on healing. Only then can they begin to thrive again in learning environments.” 

    Tulsa Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist called the summer programing “an unprecedented community-wide effort to step up and step in to ensure that Tulsa youth have the social, emotional, and academic supports they need and deserve year-round, regardless of whether school is in session.” 

    The School District of Philadelphia is offering a credit-recovery program titled Quarter 5 as well as a Summer Bridge program offering college coursework to high schoolers in all grades. 

    The district is also offering a virtual instructional program in July for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students to bolster skills before the start of in-person instruction in the fall and an extended school year program that will serve students who need special education support and students who are English learners. Summer enrichment programing for students in grades 1 to 12 will occur at 24 city schools, with more opening if there is demand.

    In a news release, Superintendent William Hite said the summer programs will “play a huge role in narrowing academic achievement gaps” and that the district wants to “create a bridge from what students have learned and to what they will be learning next year.”

    Alabama’s Birmingham City Schools will offer programing for four weeks, including coding classes, music and the arts, as well as literacy and basic skills. Breakfast and lunch will be provided and afternoon care will be available for grades K-5. 

    Superintendent Mark Sullivan said in a news release that the district feels “it is safe to bring the students in for face-to-face instructions” because coronavirus cases are going down in the community and many teachers and staff have been vaccinated.

    “Research shows that this is the most effective way to reach students—especially in the early years,” Sullivan said.

    The focus for Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Ky., will be on literacy and numeracy skills, with supports for social and emotional health. Three main options are being promoted: an in-person Backpack League, a virtual Summer League where students can earn points to be posted on a leaderboard, and Specialized Camps that will draw on students’ interests. Two programs are aimed at the youngest learners: Camp Jumpstart for 3-year-olds to introduce them to schooling and Camp Ready for K. 

    “We must provide opportunities like never before to address a year unlike anything we’ve ever had in the past,” Superintendent Marty Pollio said in a news release. He characterized the offerings as providing “powerful, personalized, interactive instruction in a variety of formats.” 

    Calling its program Summer Scholars, Minneapolis Public Schools plan sets up five academies: Discovery and Learning Academy for grades PreK-4; GEMS/GISE (Girls in Engineering, Math and Science/Guys in Science and Engineering) STEM Academy for preK-7; Virtual STEM Academy for K-7, Fast-Track Academy for grade 8, and Credit Academy for grades 9-12.

    The district also plans a multicultural experience, an American Indian STEAM experience, as well as special education, ELS and advanced academic options, with bus transportation available for grades preK-7. The district also will open sports camps. 

    Portland Public Schools announced it was making available $10 million to support partners, taking a community-centered approach to  summer enrichment and extended learning activities. In a news release, the district noted the city was “experiencing an unprecedented surge” in gun violence. 

    “We know that the most effective way to prevent youth violence is to invest in support and services that meaningfully engage young people in positive ways. Research also shows that communities are more resilient and safe if we invest in community-based organizations,” the release said.