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California summer school reshaped by COVID

The message to high-ranking schools, including Governor Gavin Newsom and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, was clear. Summer programs in 2021 should be robust. They should reach as many students as possible. And above all, they must have fun.

To make all this happen, California school districts received a collective $ 4.6 billion from the state in early March to fill learning gaps created by the pandemic and to mentally and emotionally prepare students for their return to campuses in the fall.

But despite the increased funding that allowed a large majority of California school districts to open this summer, the size and reach of many programs has been constrained by teacher and staff shortages, the inability of districts programs speed up pretty quickly and families want to take a break from ongoing safety issues.

And several of the region’s largest districts, including Los Angeles Unified, had less attendance than expected, even with unprecedented resources.

“So many districts had never done this before and were really scrambling to figure out how to spend the money, where to hire staff,” said Jennifer Peck, president of Partnership for Children and Youth, an Oakland-based organization that advocates for extended learning programs for students from underserved communities.

Due to past lack of funding, public summer schools have long been offered primarily as special education for students with disabilities, credit recovery for high school students, and remedial math and language arts. Relatively few California school districts had the bandwidth or the money provide free enrichment opportunities such as outdoor recreation, visual and performing arts, and second language courses.

But this year, 73% of California school districts planned to offer enrichment classes in early June, according to state data. State officials encouraged schools to partner with community organizations to provide options that are both fun and academically rewarding.

This year, LA Unified and San Diego Unified, the two largest school systems in the state, opened in-person summer programs to all students.

As of July 8 in Los Angeles, about 100,000 students – about 22% of the 465,000 students – were enrolled in a summer program, according to the district. LA Unified has partnered with community organizations to offer a wide range of enrichment classes for K-12 students: sports and nutrition, language study, cartoon drawing and animation, and dance choreography among them. .

Despite the district’s efforts to attract more students through these opportunities, enrollment numbers were similar to 2020, when all summer courses were online. This summer, 41% of participants were online.

Alison Yoshimoto-Towery, academic director of LA Unified, said families are taking advantage of the opportunity to travel for the first time. “The fact that so many families are still choosing the online option says something,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s security or convenience.”

Yoshimoto-Towery noted that prior to the pandemic, K-8 summer enrollment was “extremely low,” so increased attendance for these classes – and the funding that enabled it – is a godsend.

Summer school funds, allocated through State Assembly Bill SB 86, can be used until September 30, 2024 for educational materials throughout the upcoming school year and until next summer. If the money is not spent at that time, the state will collect the rest from the districts. LA Unified received $ 401 million of the total of $ 4.6 billion donated to Districts in California.

San Diego Unified saw its enrollment nearly quintuple between 2019 and 2021. The district typically serves 5,000 of its 98,000 students through summer programs, which previously included high school credit recovery and an “extended school year.” »For students with special needs. This year, 23,000 students signed up for the district’s expanded Kindergarten to Grade 12 offerings, district spokesperson Andrew Sharp said.

“It’s a sea change for us,” said Sharp. “[The state funding] gave us the opportunity to build programs that we have always wanted to build. San Diego offers enrichment opportunities through partnerships with community organizations including the San Diego Zoo, La Jolla Playhouse, Girl Scouts, and the YMCA, which hosts a surf camp.

The Long Beach Unified School District nearly doubled its usual summer school enrollment between 2019 and 2021. However, the district did not offer its support, enrichment and accelerated learning program to all students in Kindergarten to Grade 8 due to staffing issues. Students with the highest needs were given priority and other families could enroll their children on request.

“We advertised the summer school as a way to make fall easier for students, and we used an exciting array of enrichment classes and extended hours as incentives,” said Christopher Lund, deputy superintendent of the K-8 school district.

State funding has enabled some smaller districts to offer summer schools for the first time in years.

The Hawthorne School District, which primarily serves K-8 students with the exception of one charter high school, ceased hosting the 2016 summer school due to low attendance and limited resources. This year, 530 of Hawthorne’s 8,000 students – 89% of whom received a free or reduced lunch from the 2019-20 school year – are enrolled, with 15 on a waiting list, the projects director said. District Specialists, Michael Collins. The district could only offer programs to students with high needs due to lack of staff.

Many districts have struggled to recruit teachers to work this summer after a grueling year. The Palmdale School District, for example, has a waiting list of 400 students because too few teachers have volunteered. District programs were capped at 805 in total.

Candace Craven, Palmdale’s Extended Learning Coordinator, said it was “horrible” to have to turn children away. “But I will say that the teachers who wanted to do it were so excited to come back in front of their students,” she said.

Some districts have encouraged teachers to participate with salary increases – increases made possible by the influx of public funds. Others offered flexibility to summer staff. Lawndale Elementary School District and Redondo Unified encouraged teachers to develop programs they would most like to teach, while Hawthorne School District let teachers go for teams of two and three weeks instead of five.

Security measures related to COVID-19 have also inhibited the capacity of classrooms. Cohorts were limited to 10 to 15 students in many districts, as noted in teacher union agreements.

Offers from some districts were further hampered by the lack of time. “When state funds were allocated in March, we had to write a plan and have it approved by the board by June,” said Nadia Hillman, assistant superintendent of education for the Duarte Unified School District. “There are a lot of things we can and want to do, but by the end of the year we had a lot of tired people.”

Attendance was also hampered by school burnout. Many families just needed a break, district administrators said.

This was the case in Duarte, a predominantly Latino community hit hard by the pandemic. Enrollment for summer courses in Duarte is typically around 1,000. This year, 850 people have registered, partly because of a lack of staff, but also because many parents have chosen to keep their children at home. the House. “They could finally go out and take a vacation,” Hillman said. “And some of our families are still not quite ready to send students to school in person.”

Many parents still opted for summer school in the hope of catching up with their children.

Renee Bailey’s daughter, Cali, will enter first grade at Westwood Charter Elementary without knowing how to read. Online learning has not resonated with Cali; she couldn’t concentrate and kept little information. The Baldwin Hills mother saw promise in LA Unified’s summer programs, although her expectations weren’t high, given Cali’s delay.

“I felt it was very important for Cali to learn etiquette in the classroom, to meet friends and to try to raise her as much as possible academically,” Bailey said.

After four weeks, Cali hadn’t improved much in her reading, Bailey said. But she’s excited every morning to go to school and see her new friends – a victory in itself.

Preparing children for their return to campus, through low-stress activities with classmates and socio-emotional learning exercises, is at the heart of many programs.

At Pasadena Unified School District, students from Kindergarten to Grade 8 were immersed daily in activities designed to build emotional, self-confidence, and communication skills. Students created “feeling flipbooks” to explore how difficult emotions play out in their bodies and behaviors and what they can do to cope with them, and “worry about pillows” to squeeze when they are overwhelmed.

“Many of the students who came were very apprehensive about being with other people after being isolated for so long,” said program director Maria Toliver. “These activities brought a bit of calm and sweetness to the atmosphere and put them in groups, so it won’t be as traumatic once school starts.”

The Redondo Beach Unified School District offered two-week “summer transition institutes” that allowed embattled students and teachers to focus on a single topic or activity for a short period of time. Classes included reading in Spanish, a journalism course for first graders, as well as intramural sports and theater.

The district based the program on research that shows student engagement is driven by choice and understanding that teachers and students are exhausted.

The institutes were popular. “We had teachers coming out of the woods to lead these exciting projects,” said Susan Wildes, assistant superintendent of education services for the district. Over 1,600 students have enrolled in at least one course, and many more have chosen to take more than one. The district typically enrolls about 300 students from Kindergarten to Grade 8 in summer school.

“We really wanted to focus on getting the kids excited about going back to school,” Wildes said, “as opposed to filling in the gaps of what they missed.”





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