This past school year was a trying time for teachers and students, said Owensboro Middle School seventh-grade math teacher John Diebel.
Asking students, especially the younger ones, to perform what Diebel called “executive functioning” on their own made for a rough year. It wasn’t surprising to Diebel and his colleagues that many students bounced back and started to improve when they were all able to return to classrooms five days a week toward the end of the school year.
Now that school is out for summer, many educators, like Diebel, are heading back to the classrooms to provide enrichment opportunities for students in need.
While districts always offer some type of summer school each year, this summer will be different due to the sheer number of students enrolled.
According to Owensboro Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Steve Bratcher, in a typical summer, about 300 students participate in summer school. This year about 900 will be served in some capacity.
Jana Beth Francis, Daviess County Public Schools assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said there are 1,483 students enrolled in summer programming, which is a significant increase from past years. For example, the district normally wouldn’t host summer school at its elementary and middle schools, and this year it is serving 1,183 at those grade levels.
Bratcher said summer school was recommended for students who failed more than one class, and for high school students who needed to catch up on class credits.
Summer programming is also a chance to continue learning, he said.
Students made “real strides” in the last nine weeks of school, so the district wants to continue that success through June when most of the enrichment opportunities end.
“Teachers are excited the kids will be going through classwork three hours a day, five days a week to get them caught up on some things and instruction they may have missed during the year,” Bratcher said.
Summer is also a time to scale back class sizes and allow students to work more closely with teachers.
Working one-on-one with students is something Diebel prefers, especially when it comes to students struggling with math. While working in small groups, he can use manipulatives and other hands-on activities to help students grasp concepts that are difficult to convey virtually.
“Right now what we are doing is we have identified key standards and we are trying to really hammer them down, so when (students) move on to the next school year, they will be more prepared, and hopefully won’t be as behind,” he said. “We want to solidify what we were doing virtually.”
Francis said the summer learning programs are to keep educational momentum going. The hope, especially for students in kindergarten through eighth grades, is to circumvent the summer slide and for learning not to become dormant.
“We want to continue the great learning we were able to get back up and going when school started back five days a week,” Francis said.
Most area students returned to in-person instruction during the last nine weeks of school.
For DCPS high school students, a lot of summer school will be about credit recovery. Most of those students will continue where they left off in the school year and recoup credits so they aren’t behind.
Virtual learning wasn’t a good match for some students, Francis said, and some need more assistance and time to complete or re-do courses so they don’t fall behind.
“We were thrilled to be able to offer credit recovery so kids can close the book on the 2020-21 school year, and say this doesn’t have to define who I was as a student, and I’ll get started next fall for the 2021-22 school year with the credits I need,” she said.
All of these summer learning opportunities, along with the transportation to and from schools and meals served throughout, are being provided through ESSER funds.
Through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) federal funding, Owensboro Public Schools and Daviess County Public Schools received about $6 million and $8.16 million, respectively.
The money can be used for addressing learning loss due to the pandemic, including payment for methods of assessment and tracking; repairs and improvements to school buildings related to health needs and cutting disease transmission; to pay for nurses, mental health professionals and emergency leave days for employees; as well as teacher salaries to support intervention and remediation services, along with substitute teachers when regular personnel are absent on COVID-19 isolation or quarantine, according to the Kentucky Department of Education.
Bobbie Hayse, firstname.lastname@example.org, 270-691-7315