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Districts offer summer programs aimed at long-term gains

‘COVID is not a one-year impact’

Multiple districts — It would be the rare educator who would dispute the pandemic’s disruption to K-12 learning. But some districts are framing it as an opportunity for lasting, positive change not only during the school year, but when it comes to summer programs. Here’s a sampling of what districts are offering this summer.

Ryan Oshnock

Northview Public Schools

Ryan Oshnock started in April 2021 as the district’s first coordinator of student engagement and recovery. He told SNN shortly after taking the position that the coronavirus pandemic and resulting push to develop virtual and hybrid learning had jump-started ways districts can maintain and boost student engagement.

“(W)e’re just really scratching the surface of … thinking about how we recover lost learning, how we improve (and) how we work for change,” Oshnock said then. 

A year into his position, the proverbial surface has been scratched. Oshnock considers what is planned for Northview’s hybrid summer school program and into the fall as a “head-first deep dive” into that thinking.

For students in grades 9-12, using the Canvas learning platform, the district tracked how well each did in every module or unit of study. For the first time it will use that information to identify which units every summer-school student needs to review and earn up to a “C” grade in one of a trio of sessions, either hybrid or fully online. 

“In traditional summer school in years previous, you’d go in and retake the entire curriculum, and a lot of times that was only online,” Oshnock said. “Now it’s teacher-led (two days per week), specific to the student’s deficiencies.”

Oshnock said teachers will continue to add student data to Canvas over the summer.

“That’s going to be great feedback for us going into the fall, because we want to have a good, active way to recover credits in real time during the school year as well,” he said.

For K-8 students, summer school will be held in two, three-week in-person sessions in July and August. It will include a mixed-grade-level theme hour (think STEAM, or outdoor ed) for younger students who may not have had as much interaction as in years before the pandemic; targeted instruction based on identified individual learning gaps; and play and socialization.

‘We actually see a change in motivation and stamina, more than necessarily ‘learning loss’ … If there are gaps, I feel like it’s (about) working students back up to and/or being conscious of which levels are necessary for them to learn all that they need to and be a successful student.’

– Northview Curriculum Director Rebecca Moore
Rebecca Moore

“That came from feedback from teachers who taught summer school last year and said they wanted the opportunity to meet kids where they are a bit more, academically,” said Rebecca Moore, director of curriculum and instruction. 

As in previous years, summer school is open to Northview 9-12 students for credit recovery only. For the second year, any student in grades K-8 can be enrolled. Teachers at those levels also can recommend students attend, based on social or academic challenges. 

Moore said there were 280 K-8 students enrolled in summer school last year, and that is about how many are expected this year – “far more” than years prior to COVID, she said. A state grant for summer learning helped pay for staff last summer, and ESSER-3 federal funding this year is helping to attract teachers.

Moore said some curriculum directors are speaking not so much of COVID-induced learning loss, but learning change. And that goes for the teachers as well as the students.

“We actually see a change in motivation and stamina, more than necessarily ‘learning loss,’” she said. “Especially this fall and into January and February, it was more of a challenge for students to meet the demands of a full school day, meet the rigor of work… So if there are gaps, I feel like it’s (about) working students back up to and/or being conscious of which levels are necessary for them to learn all that they need to and be a successful student, and where we as adults need to rethink our approach.”

Craig Hoekstra

Wyoming Public Schools

To address learning loss and gaps exacerbated by COVID-19, Wyoming Public Schools is offering a six-week, full-day Monday-Thursday program for kindergarten through 12th-graders in June and July.

Available to students by invitation only, the program is in addition to various strategies the district is using year-round to help students affected by the more than two-year pandemic.  

“COVID is not a one-year impact. We are going to see its impact for years to come,” said Superintendent Craig Hoekstra.

Last summer, the program was open to all students fresh off a year of school interrupted by the pandemic. Now, the district has returned to its previous summer school model of inviting students based on academic need.

“It’s not mandatory, but we strongly encourage them to attend to address academic deficiencies (identified) this school year, and that have been amplified by COVID,” Hoekstra said. 

To identify students, the district used data derived from spring assessments and from how students performed in their classes throughout the year. 

“We are using spring data to formulate what the summer school experience is,” he said, noting that the focus will be on core subjects — building  “stronger readers, mathematicians and stronger writers.”

Between 50 to 60 students are expected to attend at each site. For elementary through junior high students, the day will consist of academics in the morning and enrichment activities in the afternoon. For those grade levels, the program is run through Team 21, a partnership with the City of Wyoming. It is funded through a federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant

‘It’s not mandatory, but we strongly encourage (students) to attend to address academic deficiencies (identified) this school year, and that have been amplified by COVID.’

– Wyoming Superintendent Craig Hoekstra

The high school program will be based on credit earning and recovery. It is funded through Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds, federal dollars allocated for districts to address the impact of COVID.

In terms of staffing, district staff have the first opportunity to fill positions before other educators are considered.

“We would love for our staff to staff it,” Hoekstra said. “How we do things is founded on relationships, so there’s great benefit for our folks who know our kids and have supported our kids to hit the ground running this summer.”

Lori Peterson

Grand Rapids Public Schools

The district’s longtime Grand Rapids Academic Summer Program (GRASP) heads into its 48th season after the district decided to make the materials free in 2022 to any GRPS student, recognizing what the past two-plus years have done to the ways its students experience school and the learning losses that might have resulted from the pandemic.

Program Director Lori Peterson said more than 400 students are already signed up for 2022, already twice the number who attended last summer. Free materials for GRPS students help, she said, but she and her team have also heard concerns from many parents who want to help catch their kids up.

“When you think about the ages of some of these students, first- and second-graders now may have been in kindergarten when we had the pause (in March 2020),” Peterson said. “Parents want to help their scholars succeed, and we want to help them do that.”

Peterson noted that GRASP remains true to its roots as a primarily paper math and reading correspondence program. Aimed at students in kindergarten through eighth grade, the K-3 section gets only paper packets, while grades 4-8 can use either paper packets or do their work online. (Find registration information here.)

‘Parents want to help their scholars succeed, and we want to help them do that.’

– Lori Peterson, director of the GRASP program

Peterson said she has been struck by how many parents still choose physical materials, “even when we tell them an online option exists. So many of them have had that online experience not by choice because of COVID, so they want to have the paper, to sit down with their student and work through it together.”

Both the math and reading courses are a packet of nine weekly lessons and include envelopes addressed to the scoring center and even a pencil. Peterson said results are mailed back to the student, and many families have told her how much their students enjoy getting mail.

GRASP is also popular outside GRPS, with several Kent ISD districts including Rockford and Forest Hills regularly purchasing the product for their students. It also is purchased by school districts and individual families outside Kent ISD and some 23 other states at last count, Peterson said. 

Many of those districts and families this spring have a renewed interest in GRASP because of COVID, she added.

Dan VanderMeulen

Lowell Area Schools

Summer learning opportunities in Lowell Area Schools will be a mix of new and familiar programming to address both learning loss and district goals. 

As part of the Michigan Integrated Continuous improvement Process, the district has identified a K-12 goal to increase math proficiency, Curriculum Director Dan VanderMeulen said. This priority, along with state ESSER funding, has allowed them to create a brand-new, math-related summer program for middle-schoolers and also add a math track to existing summer programming. 

Math on the Move will be offered to rising sixth-graders, selected by teachers, who could benefit from additional instruction or a preview of middle-school math before actually beginning middle school. 

“We’ve not offered a summer school opportunity for incoming sixth-graders in the past, and we’re hoping to build some confidence in the kids with this,” VanderMeulen said. “(Math on the Move) does speak to learning loss specifically, and also our (district) math goal.”

VanderMeulen said he gives math coordinator Carmen Tawney “a lot of credit with this — middle school’s obviously a tough time for a lot of kids, and she said she’d love to offer something like this to help with that transition.”

Math on the Move will be taught by middle-school math teachers Wendy Crace and Andrea Struckmeyer in two different sessions. VanderMeulen said fifth-grade teachers recommended approximately 45 students, district-wide, to enroll in the class, and to date they’ve had 13 sign up. 

“I don’t expect that every kid going into sixth grade wants to spend a few more weeks in math, but in my view, if we end up with 15 kids and they will benefit from extra (instruction), then that’s absolutely a win,” he said. “For those kids that do attend, I am confident that we’ll be able to at least stop the slide (in test scores) from spring to fall.” 

Lowell is also adding a math focus to its traditional K-4 summer school programming, for the same reasons. Called Arrow Camp, the program has historically focused on literacy, and that instruction will remain. With lots of hands-on and outdoor activities, Arrow Camp is open to students who have been identified based on assessments, data and teacher recommendation. 

VanderMeulen said 155 students have enrolled in Arrow Camp this year, up from 125 last summer. 

‘We’ve not offered a summer school opportunity for incoming sixth-graders in the past, and we’re hoping to build some confidence in the kids with this.’

– Lowell Curriculum Director Dan VanderMeulen

When it comes to tracking learning loss, specifically as it relates to the pandemic, VanderMeulen said he doesn’t see any big differences between Lowell and surrounding areas. 

“We’ve reviewed a bunch of data from our MAP tests … and we are just completing M-STEP testing but we do have data from spring 2021,” he said. “Overall, not only in Lowell but countywide, statewide, we’re seeing that the reading assessment data stayed fairly steady. It’s more math, in particular, where overall as a nation and as a community we saw dips in scores.

“That’s really what spurred the math proficiency district goal, and all the different things we’re doing to increase math scores.”

Lowell will also be offering an elementary summer reading program and a K-2 physical and mental wellness camp as part of its summer instruction options. These programs are not new, but the district is planning to use some COVID relief dollars to help fund the wellness camp this year. 

SNN reporters Erin Albanese, Beth Heinen Bell and Phil deHaan contributed to this report.

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Kent ISD, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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