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Summer school aims to address learning loss

Summer school aims to address learning loss

As much of Western North Carolina bounces back from the devastation of COVID-19 — lower case counts, rising tourism numbers , successful vaccination campaigns — schools in the region are looking toward a longer, more intensive summer school program to put its students back on track. 

In April, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Summer Learning Choice for NC Families, an “act to establish school extension learning recovery and enrichment programs in each local school administrative unit to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on at-risk students.” The purpose of the program is to provide in-person instruction on specific subjects, as well as offer additional enrichment activities, to students in kindergarten through grade 12 to address learning losses and negative impacts students have experienced due to COVID-19 during the 2020-21 school year. The bill requires school districts to prioritize at-risk students for the program, and admit students not deemed “at-risk” as space allows. 

“We know that our students, even though we’ve been very fortunate to have had students mostly all face to face this entire year, that there are gaps in instruction and that there are learning losses that have stemmed from COVID and from quarantine and those types of things,” said Angie Dills, chief academic officer for Jackson County Schools. 

The bill requires 150 hours, or 30 days of instruction over the course of the summer. It sets out a summer program that will look more like the regular school year than summer programs of the past by including all grades K-12, regular school transportation, meal service for each day of instruction and a period of physical activity. 

Grades K-2 will receive in-person instruction in reading and math, as well as one enrichment activity per day, such as sports, music or art. Grades 3-8 will receive instruction in reading, math and science, as well as one enrichment activity per day. High school students will receive instruction in end-of-course subjects, credit recovery courses and elective courses. The bill also requires in-person, social-emotional learning support for all students in the program. 

According to Jill Barker, assistant superintendent for Haywood County Schools, social-emotional learning support could be done by guidance counselors, if enough elect to work through the summer program, or it can be incorporated into programs taught by classroom teachers. 

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“We believe as an educational institution, that is the right thing for kids considering what they’ve been through,” said Dills. 

All instruction will be in person, except for certain courses offered through the North Carolina Virtual Public School. 

Though it is the responsibility of the LEA to determine which students are at-risk, contact parents and invite them to participate in the summer program, participation is voluntary. Kindergarten students who do participate in the program will be exempt from retention. Students who were retained for the 2020-21 school year will be reassessed for promotion eligibility at the end of the program. 

Schools in Western North Carolina are finalizing program details for the summer, with districts required to submit a plan to the state no later than 30 days before the last day of instruction in the regular school year. 

Though summer school this year will be longer and help a broader swath of students than in years past, school districts will not have to pay the cost of running these programs. ESSER funds — the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund intended to address the impact COVID-19 has had on schools and part of the CARES act — will be used to pay the costs of this year’s summer school. These are federal grants given to the state and split up among LEAs in North Carolina. 

As school systems in the region plan for the extended summer program, they are gauging how many staff members will elect to work this summer. According to Barker, Haywood County Schools has put out an interest survey to all staff, and they are replying whether they are interested in working. Macon, Haywood and Jackson County schools all believe they will have enough staff members elect to work this summer to run a successful program. 

The bill states “local boards of education are encouraged to find ways to incentivize highly effective teachers to participate in the program, such as increased compensation and varied contract durations.” 

For all teachers in North Carolina who have completed the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Certification or have received a past teaching bonus for reading or math in grades 3-8, there will be a signing bonus of $1,200. 

Jill Barker at Haywood County Schools, Angie Dills at Jackson County Schools and Josh Lynch, Director of Curriculum at Macon County schools all said they were working hard to put out a plan to compensate teachers competitively. 

“We do know that teachers are exhausted,” said Dills. “It’s been a very long, hard year. And so we wanted to be able to reward them with the compensation for summer programming in a way that they were still motivated to work and it’s completely optional out of our teachers to work in our summer programming. So we are in the midst of planning, getting our staff on board, getting students registered and in on details now kind of as we go.” 

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