COVID-19 impact: Many kids head to summer school after months of virtual learning

With her three teenagers vaccinated against COVID-19, Aja Purnell-Mitchell left it up to them to decide whether to go back to school for the summer vacation.

The decision was unanimous: summer school.

“Getting them back to helping them get back in touch with their friends, maybe meet new people and of course pick up the things they were missing from Zoom,” said the Durham County, North Carolina mother. and ticked her hoping for the upcoming session, which will see her kids in the classroom for the first time since the spring 2020 outbreak broke out.

In the U.S., more kids than ever could be in classrooms for summer school this year to make up for the loss of learning during the outbreak that led to monumental disruptions in education. School districts across the country are expanding their summer programs and offering rewards to attract teachers to attend.

As part of the federal government’s latest pandemic relief package, the Biden government is calling on states to allocate some of the billions of dollars for summer programs.

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The U.S. Department of Education said it was too early to know how many students will be enrolling. However, the number is sure to exceed the estimated 3.3 million who attended mandatory or optional summer school in 2019 before the pandemic.

In Montgomery, Alabama, for example, more than 12,000 of the school system’s 28,000 students signed up before the June 1 deadline. Usually around 2,500 attend summer school. Philadelphia had 14,700 enrolled as of Friday and was expecting more for the mostly face-to-face programs, versus the 9,300 students in last summer’s virtual-only sessions.

“It’s an understatement to say the need is greater this year,” said Kalman Hettleman, an education analyst in Maryland.

Hettleman is most concerned about the reading skills of disadvantaged younger students who were lagging behind before the COVID-19 shutdown and who are likely to encounter technological hurdles thereafter.

“It’s not realistic to believe that summer school, no matter how good and intense it may be, will fill all the gaps because many of these children had gaps before the pandemic,” said Hettleman, who sees classes in Baltimore as mandatory for underperforming students would like to . “But it will help, and it will at least give them a chance to fight if there is intense intervention during the regular school year.”

Taylor Dennington, the high school freshman in Las Vegas never thought she would be in summer school, but she started there last week – along with many friends – after a year of distance learning.

“This year has been such an unmotivating school year,” she said.

“It got to the point where I did NOT do any work, just went to class,” Dennington, who studies biology and math, said in a text exchange. “I learn better in school than online. Being in a classroom with a teacher is so much better than waiting hours for an email from your teacher.”

In North Carolina, Purnell-Mitchell’s children have access to five or six weeks of full-time programs that include academic and activities such as sports or music. The districts will also provide transportation and meals thanks to the influx of federal spending.

According to a unanimously passed law in North Carolina, nearly 1 in 4 students deemed to be lagging behind – approximately 200,000 students across the state – will be given priority for summer school, with additional places open to others who want them. Some districts invite all of their students.

School systems must use some of the federal funding to deal with the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on students from poor families, those whose first language is not English, members of minorities and homeless or foster families.

The nationwide expanded programs have not only increased the need for teachers, but also for bus drivers, supervisors and canteen employees.

Some North Carolina teachers receive a $ 1,200 bonus. There are also bonuses for teachers in certain grades whose students have improved in reading and arithmetic.

Elsewhere, a district in Anderson, South Carolina, nearly doubled its summer school teacher salaries to $ 60 an hour. Teachers and nurses in Spring Branch, Texas receive a raise of up to 20%. In Mississippi, the Starkville Oktibbeha school system increased teachers’ hourly wages by $ 10 to $ 35 per hour for the summer.

Connecticut is promising US $ 4,500 scholarships to 500 college students working on K-12 summer programs.

New York City, the largest school district in the country with over 1 million teenagers, offers summer school for all students, not just those who lag behind.

“Our children have been through so much,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio when announcing the plans, “and they need our support as we build a recovery for all of us.”

Philadelphia and San Diego will announce district-wide eligibility, among other things. Chicago plans to greatly expand its programs.

Purnell-Mitchell said her children had different reasons for going to school this summer. Her older daughter Kyra Mitchell, who suffers from autism, missed the personal interaction with teachers to help her study, while Kyla Mitchell did well from a distance but was unable to make new friends and socialize. Her son, Cartier Mitchell, said he had enough time and was ready to return.

“I think it will give them some of the milestone marks they may have missed and give them a better chance of walking in the doors,” Purnell-MItchell said in the fall, “instead of feeling like a year lost and half know what they’re doing. “

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Thompson reported from Buffalo, NY

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