Summer school to be mix of traditional and virtual learning among districts

After a particularly strange end, the typical academic year is winding down. The summer, however, brings continued learning for students in need of extra support.

As the state entered Phase Two of its recovery this week, schools were officially allowed to hold in-person summer school, though with some restrictions that include social distancing, amended in-school food programs and more.

Much like the learning that has occurred for the last few months since schools went remote in mid-March, districts will handle summer school in a variety of ways.

In Capital, three approaches will kick off their “Senator Summer Boost” program.

Students will have the ability to engage with remote learning through at home, hybrid and in school models, said Paul Dunford, director of instruction for the district.

Through at home learning, students will be in groups of 10 to 15 children and will work with a teacher in a format that resembles what they’ve experienced for the past few months. Through Zoom and online assignment platforms like Schoology, students will be able to engage with the work. The district also made available Chromebooks.

For hybrid participation, groups of 10 to 15 students would come to school for two days a week to meet face-to-face with a teacher. For the other two days, they would use remote learning practices.

The last model would have students in the building all four days.

“We will be using specially designed instruction tailored specifically for students with disabilities,” he said. “For students to be in the full four-day approach, they would have an IEP that guides the work they’re doing.”

The at home group is slated to begin their work on June 29, while the other two groups will begin July 13.

In Appoquinimink, remote learning will continue for summer school.

“As we look at what’s best for the safety of our students and the safety of our staff and just the timing of it, we’re going to look at a virtual remote summer school at this time,” Superintendent Matt Burrows said.

With the past few months to get acclimated with remote learning, Dr. Burrows characterized the challenges of switching a typically face-to-face summer school to something similar to the obstacles first presented in mid-March.

“Our staff has worked hard to overcome a lot of those and are putting things in place now, and the families [are] working with us. We’re going to continue to work through it as a team with the parents, students and with our staff,” he said.

Going online, or being in school buildings for the first time in months, presents different challenges, though.

For Smyrna School District, online learning during the summer has been somewhat the norm. The district has used Edgenuity, an online platform, for several years, said Superintendent Patrik Williams.

The district will also be implementing some of the remote learning practices it has honed for the last few months.

“If students have connectivity issues, we will be following the Governor’s guidance to open any school computer labs for use,” he said in an email. “However, since we’ve given out over 400 devices, I’m hopeful that connectivity will not be an obstacle for us.”

This year, though, students have already been exposed to a plethora of online learning.

“We are all experiencing Zoom ‘fatigue,’ but our teachers are also reaching out on an individual basis with students to provide a ‘human touch,’” Mr. Williams said. “As we institute online learning for the summer, we will continue to reach out.”

Dr. Burrows noted, through remote learning, many educators have learned to adapt in their new format. In the classroom there are chunks of time dedicated to instruction, but intermittent is group work, movement and collaboration. There’s been an evolution of how to do that online.

“People are cognizant of you have to have those movement times, you have to have those times where you’re engaged in something and having to interact with other people. So I think we’ve learned some lessons,” he said. “Is it perfect at this point? Absolutely not. Will it get better? Yes, it will.”

Mr. Dunford noted that as students engaged in learning during the academic year, they did a mix of packets, online learning and then talking with someone on the phone to eliminate the overuse of being online and feeling disconnected.

“Our message to our teachers all along is ‘find ways to make this interesting and fun,’” he said.

Teachers have been doing a variety of different activities to engage students, like sharing recipes and cooking together virtually or scavengers hunts, he said.

“Zoom fatigue for adults is real,” he said. “Our kids, the Zoom fatigue, because of the way our teachers went about it — I visited many of their Zoom classrooms while they were happening — it didn’t seem as if our children we’re getting frustrated with it.”

Preparing for the physical space is also an important factor for health.

In the guidance released by the state at the end of May, cohorts of summer school attendees should be limited to 15 children, plus staff. One group of children and staff should remain together through the duration of the program, meaning one child or teacher shouldn’t switch between groups.

Desks should be spaced six feet apart, and physical barriers and six-foot markings should help keep distance.

“Our objective is going to be to open school in the absolute safest way possible,” Mr. Dunford said. He noted that guidelines change frequently and the district is watching the recommendations in preparation for where the state could be by mid-July when their group begins meeting in person.

“We’re going to need to take all those things into consideration and move rather slowly,” he said. “We’ve given ourselves enough time to prepare on the operational side.”

As the district gathers the enrollment of students this week, that will determine transportation and how to space students out in the buildings.

In Milford School District, Laura Manges, director of student services for the district, said that there are 55 families and students who want to take advantage of an in-person summer camp for those who are part of the 12-month school entitlement plan. (Other summer programming for students will occur throughout the summer as well.)

The district will bring its 12-month students in July 13 for a four week summer program.

“Our targets are functional skills for safety during COVID, as well as giving some very intensive opportunities surrounding their therapies, to include physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy,” she told the school board Monday. “We’re very excited about that.”

Later, she likened it to intensive camp opportunities, where students will have an academic component and more hands-on activities.

She noted that there would be in-depth training for staff to follow guidelines. Transportation and feeding were also concerns, but the district plans to feed students in the classroom, as guidelines suggest, and have staggered transportation opportunities.

Ms. Manges noted that while the guideline is no more than 15 students in a group, they will have five students and two adults.

“We’re going to keep it very small just to give us a better opportunity to keep everyone safe and moving forward,” she said.

Later, Ms. Manges noted that the biggest hurdle is making sure the district has enough personal protective equipment in place.

“We started several weeks ago, just putting orders in and kind of trying to unearth where we can identify all of the PPE for our staff,” she said.

The staff, however, is looking forward to getting to connect with the kids in person once more, she added.

“Our staff is amazing and they’ve missed our kids,” she said. “And our families are amazing in that they really want their kids to receive direct services, and they realize their limitations — while they have been being coached along by all of our folks and working at home with them — I think they want them to have opportunities to come back too and our staff is just very excited to try to get kids back so they can work with them directly again.”

Mr. Dunford noted that “lots and lots” of teachers are interested in providing instruction this summer.

“They truly believe that bridging this year to next year is important for our kids so we’ve had a good response for teaching summer school,” he said.

With the significant change to the end of their school year, he emphasized that this is truly a boost program for many students who maybe didn’t engage remotely as successfully as they may in the classroom.

“We’re looking at this as a way to boost a skill that a student might have missed. We’ve done careful analysis of data to see what skills were missed and then providing them with important skill gap recovery, so when they start the school year they’ll be with the other kids,” he said. “And hopefully it’ll be fun.”


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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