Summer school looks different during the pandemic
Monday, June 29, 2020
Summer school is underway in my New Hampshire high school, but it looks a little different from what we have offered in years past, although we have always offered a remote platform. For my school, an in-person summer school is just not practical due to our size, limited staffing resources, and lack of public transportation for students.
For years we have relied on online platforms such as Edgenuity and VLACS to provide content and, in some cases, instructors. Our staff have always provided remote technology support. This year, we took a slightly different approach for summer offerings. We added an option for teachers to award a grade of IP (In-Progress) to students who, due to the pandemic, weren’t able to produce sufficient evidence for teachers to award a final course grade and credit when the remote school year ended, but might be able to reach the finish line if they have access to additional time in the summer and a content teacher to support them along the way.
Nearly half of the students who otherwise would have fallen into the failing course category in our remote learning system were given IP grades by their teachers. These same teachers put together the assignments (with accompanying rubrics) that students will need to successfully complete in order to convert their IP grade into a passing score before they end their contractual year. I then hired several teachers to offer remote assistance to these students over the summer and assigned them each to specific students to support; monitor; and, in some cases, nudge.
For school principals, trying to determine whether what they are offering (or not offering) for summer school is congruent with what others are offering their students is difficult due to the complexities and uncertainties that the pandemic has created for educators. In this recent EdSource article, author Theresa Harrington reports that summer school may be in “short supply” this year. For many schools that are planning to offer it, it may look quite similar to the remote learning models we have all seen room schools this Spring as a result of the pandemic.
Citing a survey conducted by the Center for Reinventing Public Education that covered states from coast to coast, including the nation’s largest school districts, Harrington reports, researchers “found that many districts instead were reducing their offerings and sticking with the same distance learning methods they used in the spring.” According to researchers, the reasons for this likely include “budget constraints, lack of devices and internet access for students, other planning priorities for fall and limited interest in virtual learning from families.”
Researchers concluded this to be a missed opportunity for innovation, particularly after many schools reported lackluster results as a result of an abrupt move to a remote environment back in mid-March. Harrington reports, districts surveyed “could have had the chance to implement different, better learning environments this summer in preparation for the fall, or to address the impact of critical learning time students may have lost this spring.”
What are some of the big school districts doing for summer school? New York City schools are offering a variety of remote learning opportunities for students. At the high school level, for example, their model is similar to the one I described from my school at the top of this article.
Los Angeles Unified Schools will be offering an expanded set of programs that will, for the first time, be open to all students. In Fairfax County, Virginia, students will have access to a more limited set of programs. Some enrichment options have been canceled, and some are being offered remotely. The district is offering recovery options for students to continue their studies from this past spring.
As many school leaders are starting to set their sights on what the fall may bring, it is important to note that the likelihood of another surge from this pandemic may be high, and now is the time to start thinking through ways that schools can offer flexible supports to students throughout the calendar year. The days of a traditional calendar and traditional support structures may be numbered for all of us.
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