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Summer school programs race to help students most in danger of falling behind

By Bracey Harris, Jackie Mader, The Hechinger Rep

ort, Lillian Mongeau, The Hechinger Report and Caroline Preston, The Hechinger Report

This article about summer school was produced in partnership with The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sw For millions of students, this is a summer like no other in the history of American public education. The last day of the school year was followed by a brief pause before classes started again. That’s because districts across the country expanded summer school — and in some cases required it — to make up for a year of disrupted classes during the pandemic. The stakes are particularly high for students who have lost the most during months of remote learning. Educators say they are especially concerned about students living in poverty, English-language learners and students with disabilities. But kids of all ages — from kindergarten to high school — suffered academically and emotionally during months of isolation. Many school districts want to help them catch up this summer so they’re ready when school resumes in the fall. “This summer is so important to help young people reconnect with friends, peers and educators after such a difficult year,” said Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in a message supporting National Summer Learning Week, an initiative in mid-July sponsored by the nonprofit organization National Summer Learning Association. Record number of students enroll in summer school after months of virtual learnin Research on summer school before the pandemic showed slim evidence that it helps improve reading and math scores. Still, educators across the country are hoping this year’s efforts — from a push to close early learning gaps in Texas to a summer program in Oregon that helps kids who are learning English — will make a difference. Many of these programs got a boost from more than $1 billion in federal funds dedicated to summer under the American Rescue Plan. That windfall enabled some districts to add more students than they have enrolled in years past and others to experiment with new programs to help with pandemic learning loss. “As a country, every single child is going to be behind,” said Jaclyn Forkner, a special education teacher leading a class of third through sixth grade summer school students at Holcomb Elementary School in Oregon City, Oregon. “So I’m more on the side of: ‘Is everyone OK mentally? Socially?’” The enrichment summer school program at her school is helping with that, she thinks. “It’s awesome,” she said. “They’re having fun.” Here’s a look at how the summer is going for students around the country. What English learners need most is to love school againOREGON CITY, Ore. — Aylin Garcia Rosas, 9, and her 8-year-old cousin were crouched on the floor in the gymnasium at Holcomb Elementary School chattering in Spanish about how to get a Lego figure to stay on the car they were building. The cousins are two of the 465 students enrolled in a brand-new, free summer program for students entering kindergarten through eighth grade in Oregon City, about 30 minutes’ drive south of Portland. Victoria Alonso Guzman, 9, looks on as her friend Aylin Garcia Rosas, also 9, digs pink Play-Doh out of a container during a break at the Explorations summer program hosted at Holcomb Elementary in Oregon City, Ore.Lillian Mongeau / The Hechinger Report“It’s not really summer school,” explained Finn McDonough, 7, as he worked on a color-by-number project after finishing breakfast, which is offered free to all students here. “It’s summer camp.” Stephanie Phelps, a summer school administrator, laughed when she heard Finn’s assessment and explained that academic skills are integrated into every activity, even if the kids don’t notice. More than 50 percent of those enrolled in the six-week program are English-language learners; 13 of them, including Aylin and her cousin, are classified as migrant students, meaning their parents are migrant agricultural workers, and they get two additional hours of math and reading in the afternoon. When asked about the afternoon, Aylin echoed Finn, insisting the group just played games.

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