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Education

Summer School Attracts Students Now That It’s In Person Again

Middle school students on the second day of Hancock Place School District's summer learning program, June 3, 2021. Enrollment was low for middle school summer programs, but Hancock Place was able to use additional federal funding to maintain its course offerings, which included art and percussion.
Ryan Delaney
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Sisters Precious and Jaelyn Silver work on an art project together during Hancock Place summer school. Middle school enrollment in the district is down, but more high schoolers are taking classes this month.

Summer school attendance numbers are rebounding as schools inch toward normalcy and restore — and in some cases, expand — their usual programming.

With most summer learning programs back to being in person, students are more willing to stick around for an extra month of school. Several St. Louis-area school districts expanded summer programming this year in some part thanks to increased federal funding. Federal officials hope it’ll help some students make up ground lost during a disjointed school year.

Families balked last summer at the idea of extending the fully virtual and sometimes chaotic spring educational experience another month. Parkway School District’s 2020 summer school, which was fully virtual, attracted half as many kids as the prior year.

This year, however, summer enrollment is returning to prepandemic levels in at least a handful of districts in the area. St. Louis Public Schools and Affton are both reporting a significant increase in demand. Ritenour School District’s 1,324 students signed up for summer school is triple the enrollment of 2020 and up about 300 from 2019.

Summer programming began last week in Hancock Place, a small district in south St. Louis County. Joe Veldhuizen, summer principal for middle and high school programs, said enrollment for high school programs is “significantly higher.”

“Usually, we're kind of tracking kids down in terms of, ‘Hey, you need some credits, here's what you should take this summer,’” he said. “This year, it's been a lot more proactive on the students and parents in terms of the enrollment.”

There are 213 high schoolers signed up for the summer, compared with 159 in 2019. Hancock Place also increased the number of credits students are allowed to take over the summer, so they can get caught up more easily.

Just over half the students signed up are taking courses to get a jump on next year, such as filling a physical education or personal finance requirement. However, Veldhuizen said about 100 students are there for credit recovery, meaning they failed a class.

“It is alarming that we have a lot of kids in some serious need,” he said, “and we have to do whatever we can to address it.”

Hancock Place did struggle to attract many middle school-age students to its summer program, which runs through the end of June. The school is offering courses such as art and music, but sign-ups were limited.

Veldhuizen surmises that kids that age are particularly burned out from hybrid and virtual school. However, because of more federal funding, the school was able to move forward with classes, even with four or five students.

Middle school students on the second day of Hancock Place School District's summer learning program, June 3, 2021. Enrollment was low for middle school summer programs, but Hancock Place was able to use additional federal funding to maintain its course offerings, which included art and percussion.
Ryan Delaney
Students tap out a rhythm in Aubrey Kennedy's percussion class during Hancock Place's summer school Thursday.

Pattonville, in northwest St. Louis County, didn’t attract enough middle schoolers to run summer school for those grades, but the district is offering elementary-level summer learning programs for the first time since 2012. It had 508 students sign up.

Elementary teachers submitted proposals for the classes they wanted to teach, which will be offered in weeklong segments. Tina Plummer, Pattonville’s assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said that helped re-energize an exhausted teacher corps.

“They've missed their kids, and they love being with their kids,” she said. “And this actually gives them a different outlet on how to teach.”

Kids also miss their friends. Katie Cothron’s 9-year-old daughter is signed up for summer school in the Mehlville School District. After doing the entire school year virtually from home (other than showing up two days to take state standardized exams), Cothron’s daughter is “beyond excited” to attend summer school in person.

“She is a social butterfly, so she's excited about that." Cothron said. "I don't really know that she's crazy excited about doing the schoolwork.”

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

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