How 2 districts focus on the positives of summer learning

'We'll be working on the things we need to work on, and creating a fun environment in which to get it done'
By: | March 29, 2021
An Auburn Enlarged City School District student shapes Play-Doh at her desk during in-person learning this school year.An Auburn Enlarged City School District student shapes Play-Doh at her desk during in-person learning this school year.

Basketball and other sports are one way administrators in Florida’s School District of Indian River County hope to entice students to attend summer school.

The district is now developing a multi-pronged approach to extended learning to help students make up for learning that has been delayed by COVID’s disruptions, says Rick Myhre, the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.

“Summer is going to be a little more relaxed—we’ll be working on  the things we need to work on, and creating a fun environment in which to get it done,” Myhre says. “We also don’t want to communicate a deficit mindset—it has to be from the lens that we’re excited to have you, we support you and we want you here.”

Indian River’s educators were already focused on extended learning when the 2020-21 school year began with about 60% of the district’s student attending school in-person, he says.

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The district added hundreds of hours of after-school supports, a higher level of extended learning than it had ever offered before.

While about 85% of Indian River’s students are now attending school in-person, administrators also offered spring break camps in March 2021 to help students make up lost ground.

Indian River’s summer school programs also will be larger, with expanded reading camps focused on ensuring third-graders and other early elementary school students are reaching literacy benchmarks.

Responding to local and national learning loss trends, helping middle grades students catch up in math will be another summer school priority, Myhre says.

American Rescue Plan funding and other stimulus money will allow Indian River to develop even more extended learning opportunities throughout the 2021-22 school year. This will likely including hiring more staff to teach these new programs and prevent staff burnout, he says.

Ultimately, Myhre and his colleague intend to grow from COVID’s disruptions and face the future with optimism that all students can recover.

“Our school-based leader and our teachers are our heros,” he says. “We intend to celebrate the fact that we were courageous and we did not quit. We can’t go forward with a pessimistic attitude that this is unachievable oir unattainable.”

Let’s call it ‘enrichment’

Educators in the Auburn Enlarged City School District in New York are using the term “summer enrichment,” rather than “summer school.” The goal is to ensure students’ reading and math skills meet grade level expectations heading into the 2021-22 school year, Superintendent Jeff Pirozzolo says.

The district is looking at running morning and afternoon programs, where elementary school students attend for three-hours per day. The sessions would be split into reading and math, with other subjects blended in, Pirozzolo says.

About 500 of Auburn’s elementary-age students have remained on online learning, enrolled in a remote academy, throughout this school year.

The district also will offer routine credit-recovery programs for high school students, along with some other activities to help them re-acclimate to a more traditional school routine.

Students stay physically distanced during P.E. in New York's Auburn Enlarged City School District.

Students stay physically distanced during P.E. in New York’s Auburn Enlarged City School District.

Auburn’s educators are now in the process of assessing students to determine the level of support they will need. They are paying special attention to students who have not participated in regular remote instruction.

Social workers, counselors and administrators are visiting homes and calling families to connect with students who have been absent.

In the remaining months of the 2020-21 school year, Auburn’s educators will add more programming, including after-school activities, to help students catch up and recover credits. That would allow high school students to focus on skill building during the summer, he says.

The reduction of social distancing guidelines, from six feet to three feet, will allow to districts to bring more students back for in-person learning—up to four or five days a week.

“This will help get kids conditioned for next year, in September, when hopefully we will all back to school everyday with minimal guidelines—though I’m sure we will still be wearing masks,” Pirozzolo says. “We want kids back and we want it done safely.”