School’s out for Summer in some places but not Prince William County, Virginia, where in-person summer classes are in full swing after the 2020 school year started out with 100% virtual learning for most students.
“Our clientele is usually remedial, but with this pandemic, it certainly has changed how people see summer school,” Dara Dugger, Director of Student Management with Prince William County Public Schools in Virginia told Newsy.
Dugger runs the county’s summer school program, which has expanded from 15 schools to 22 in-person locations with additional virtual options.
“Usually we have approximately 7000-8000 students in summer school, this year we're already up to about 10,000-11,000 students in summer school,” said Dugger.
“This isn’t unique to Prince William County -- school systems across the U.S. are offering expanded learning opportunities hoping to mitigate any potential educational losses from the pandemic.”
According to a survey from Horace Mann, a group that provides services to educators, 97% of K-12 teachers reported “loss of learning by their students over the past year.”
“There are just so many different ways that families have been impacted. So whether it's the digital divide, or even just whether your kid goes to a public school or private school,” explained Dara Hill, an Associate Professor of Reading and Language Arts at the University of Michigan Dearborn.
Dara Hill with the University of Michigan says that was exacerbated in the beginning by a lack of internet access for some students. The question now: How to fix the array of learning losses.
According to Horace Mann, 53% of teachers believe there should be a narrow focus in grade-level standards next year, while 38% say summer school for more students is the answer.
Some educators believe the summer catch-up should focus on social skills. Hill says she’s heard from a fellow teacher who had trouble adjusting younger students to the discipline of in-person learning in early 2021.
“There were some kids that just like, got sent home, because they just could not, they just didn't develop the socialization from day one. You know, you can't develop socialization on a computer,” said Hill.
“We can't go back, right. I mean, in reality, we can't go backwards, but we can trust in the human ability to learn,” said Dr. Paula Kay Hooper, an Assistant Professor of Instruction at Northwestern University.
Dr. Paula Kay Hooper of Northwestern University says now isn’t the time to fixate on learning losses but the time for parents and educators to look to the future, re-evaluate the reliance on standardized testing and rethink what it means to learn in and out of the classroom.
“If you get resources out to parents to help them know that playing games with young kids that keep them counting, keep them thinking mathematically, or having older kids write their own TV scripts, you know, to get that kind of creativity that will keep learning happening. That is what I think will help to alleviate the sort of breakdown,” Hooper explained.
Amber: Have you sensed a different vibe as more and more students come back into the classroom?
Dugger: Yeah, they are definitely excited to be here.”
Back in Virginia, Dugger, who has a background in counseling, says the county recognizes the importance for summer learning but also social losses, setting aside time for K-8th grade students and teachers to just talk. Older students are given time to focus on post high school planning.
“We've been on a computer on Zoom calls. And so you know, students haven’t had an opportunity to really talk to other students in person. So one of the programs that we've kind of implemented is a social emotional program that focuses on students having the opportunity to really just talk about what they would like to talk about with students and an adult besides their parents,” explained Dugger.
Amber Strong, Newsy, Prince William County, Virginia.