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Education

Schools Are Planning Extended Summer School In Effort To Make Up Ground

Jennings School District students sit spaced out July 13, 2020, listening to instructions during a pilot in-person school model being tried out this month in the north St. Louis County District.
File photo / Ryan Delaney
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St. Louis Public Radio
Jennings School District was one of the few in the region to offer in-person courses last summer. This year, several school districts are planning extended summer school options.

Schools in the St. Louis area are planning expanded summer school offerings in an attempt to make up for lost instructional time during the pandemic.

After more than a year of a mix of virtual and in-person learning, and last summer’s scaled-back programs, teachers are reporting higher numbers of students failing courses and lower scores on reading and math proficiency tests. While learning loss has not been as dramatic as first feared, it still has educators worried.

As a result, several districts in the region are planning boosted summer offerings. That’s helped by increased federal aid, with a third round of federal stimulus including $1.2 billion specifically for schools to boost summer programming. The amount is triple what the federal government typically offers for summer.

District administrators said it’s too early to know just how much extra money they’ll receive, but a spokeswoman for the state education department said it will be significant.

There’s more focus on using this summer to help students recover academically, said Aaron Philip Dworkin from the National Summer Learning Association, but summer programs will also be used “as a kind of on-ramp and kind of onboarding, getting everyone ready and acclimated to going back to school in person full time in the fall.”

The Normandy school district will run a second summer session in July to help students who are struggling, on top of the usual summer programs in June. Pattonville added a more academic-focused three-week program to run parallel to its usual summer camp-style offerings. University City is expanding its summer program to six weeks and adding a fifth day.

“Our hope is that our parents will see value in it, and that our parents will find it important for the child to engage,” said Sharonica Hardin-Bartley, U City’s superintendent.

U City’s program will mix reading and math interventions with enrichment activities, Hardin-Bartley said, through partnerships with the St. Louis Science Center and the arts nonprofit COCA.

In Missouri, students who are severely behind academically can be required to attend summer school, but otherwise it can’t be mandatory.

Hazelwood, which is returning to in-person schooling on March 29, will also have an extended summer school program, though a spokesperson said details are still being worked out.

St. Louis Public Schools will offer both a virtual and in-person summer school option. The district said it’s trying to offer in-person instruction at all buildings over the summer, if it has enough staffing. Its summer programming last year was completely virtual.

Kimberly Moody, SLPS’s director of curriculum and instruction said the district is “taking great pains” to reach more students and help with the academic obstacles of the pandemic as well the emotional toll, “so that they won't suffer summer learning loss.”

While summer school will be much more in-person than it was last year, SLPS and U City both have large percentages of students still learning remotely, 60% and 40% respectively. That will make recruitment to summer school challenging.

“It's up to us to do the outreach, the recruitment, the engagement,” said U City’s Hardin-Bartley. “I think that we've had a proof point of demonstrating that we can be open for in-person instruction in the midst of COVID.”

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

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