Summer school programs are first opportunity to recover pandemic losses

  • A ConVal School District bus. (Benji Rosen/ Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Benji Rosen

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/23/2021 3:08:30 PM

Learning disruptions related to COVID-19 may be receding into the rearview mirror, and for many school districts, it’s time to start catching up students who may have fallen behind in their studies during the pandemic. That starts with summer programming, which is coming together despite initial fears that pandemic burnout would take its toll on staff and students alike.

ConVal

ConVal devised a detailed learning recovery plan to quickly return students to meeting grade-level expectations. Without intervention, students who fell behind during the pandemic could remain behind their peers long-term, with potential impacts to their career opportunities and future earnings, Assistant Superintendent Ann Forrest said during a presentation for the School Board in April.

Forty percent of ConVal students could benefit from some amount of learning recovery programming, Forrest said. The School District has always heeded indicators that a student might be falling behind, but the pandemic invited a more thorough analysis of student growth via tests and teacher input, Forrest said, and available federal grant monies for learning recovery are allowing the school to address learning losses more aggressively than would otherwise be possible. 

Much like the District layered different COVID-19 mitigation strategies to prevent the virus’s spread, ConVal is tackling learning recovery through a variety of routes, Forrest said on Tuesday. In addition to summer programming beyond regularly scheduled opportunities, ConVal’s learning recovery plan involves high-intensity tutoring sessions during and outside of the school day, as well as additional teacher training and support.

All learning recovery efforts are aimed at closing the gap between students and their peers, Forrest said, and providing new, engaging content rather than simply rehashing the same material in the same way. Lessons learned from implementing this plan could improve the way ConVal addresses student growth for years to come, Forrest said. The plan is estimated to cost $2,474,493 to implement, according to School Board meeting minutes, with all costs to be reimbursed by federal COVID-19 relief grant monies.

“There has been more outreach to individual families… really talking with them about the value in having their child participate in summer programming, and the impact that it would really have in them moving forward successfully,” Forrest said. Although some families are declining, saying their child needs a break, current enrollment rates are about the same for summer programs as they’ve been in previous years, which is good, Forrest said, although they’re trying to keep enrollment open for as long as they can before programming starts on July 6. “Ultimately, our hope is to serve well as many children as we can this summer,”she said, but, “a lot of our recovery efforts will really be implemented during the school year.” Bussing is included in the summer programming, Forrest said.

ConVal’s plan also calls for a number of temporary hires: a Learning Recovery Director to oversee the plan’s implementation, and six instructional coaches, who will help teachers design lessons and assessments. Amy Janoch was recently hired to serve as Learning Recovery Director, and the hiring process for instructional coaches is underway, Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders said.

Mascenic

This is the first year Mascenic has offered a summer enrichment program in addition to regularly scheduled summer options, Superintendent Chris Martin said. Although the programming seeks to address learning losses and help students who may have struggled to pass a course recover class credits, “just getting kids engaged with each other again,” is another motivation, Martin said. She estimated that about 100 students have signed up so far. Some were recommended by their teachers while others signed up on their own.

It wasn’t too hard to recruit enough adults to lead programming this summer, Martin said, especially since interested instructors were able to pitch the activities they’d like to lead. “I will say, we were hoping to have more interest from staff, but everyone’s pretty darn tired,” she said. Nevertheless, a combination of staff and community members stepped forward with engaging programs to offer. “Field trip club,” led by two school counselors at the middle school, has had the most signups so far, Martin said, and other options include various music and visual arts programs and a cooking group, in addition to credit recovery programming at the high school level. At least 12 instructors are involved in this summer’s programming, she said.

Wilton-Lyndeborough

This year, Wilton-Lyndeborough expanded their existing summer academy program to include a five-week program for middle school students, in addition to the regularly scheduled K-5 programming, Superintendent Bryan Lane said. Students are invited to attend by their teachers for each subject area, and high schoolers are recommended to attend credit and competency recovery classes as identified by their report cards, he said. The District is also holding social emotional days on Fridays to help students re-acclimate to the school environment, he said. It was “no struggle” to find staff for the summer program, Lane said. Nine staff members are running programs for middle and high school students in addition to the teachers signed up for the regularly budgeted K-5 program, he said. “We’ve had a good response from parents and students, and the key to that is the fact that we’re providing transportation,” Lane said.

One teacher’s viewpoint

During the school year, Ben Putnam teaches art at ConVal High School. For the past 15 years, he also spent summers teaching at Phillips Exeter Academy, but this year, he’s taking some time off, he said. “In the middle of January, I realized that if I was going to be my best self next fall, it would probably be in my best interest to step away from the school setting for a few weeks this summer,” he said.

“This year was a challenge, for sure, but kind of a blast,” Putnam said, describing a continuous reimagining of lessons while shifting from in-person, to remote, to hybrid, and back. “It was a year of first days of school,” he said. Although he and his colleagues are exhausted, Putnam said he doesn’t feel burned out, but he recognizes the importance of recharging, something Superintendent Rizzo Saunders also emphasized to staff and faculty this year. ConVal took its spring break in March this year, rather than April, he said, and it’s felt “pretty nonstop” since they reconvened, he said. “I think the attitude of the kids right now, they’re fantastic. They’re not burned out in a way that I typically see at the end of a school year. It’s different this year,” Putnam said. His students seem happy to be in-person and learning with their friends, and many said they think the District did as good a job as they were capable of this year, he said.

What will Putnam’s summer recharge look like? “A lot of time in my arts studio, a lot of time with my nose in a book, and I’ll clock a fair number of hours in my kayak,” he said.

Representatives from the Jaffrey-Rindge School District did not respond to requests for comment for this story.


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