By Silas Allen, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Aaron Dworkin, CEO of the nonprofit National Summer Learning Association, said this summer matters more than most to help struggling students make up ground and get ready for the next school year. So it’s more important than ever that school districts get their summer programming right, Dworkin told journalists last week during a virtual conference held by the Education Writers Association.
Summer school has a reputation for being punitive, for taking place only in school buildings and for being academic-only, he said. A good summer learning program is none of those things, he said. Districts may need to make summer learning mandatory this year to undo the academic damage of the pandemic, he said, but they should aim to make the experience so fun and exciting that students want to be there. Districts should also get students out of the classroom as much as possible and into nature or educational places like museums and zoos, he said. And although reading and math are important, effective summer learning programs also include arts, health and fitness and social and emotional support, he said.
When summer school begins, teachers will need to bear in mind that their students have been through a traumatic experience, Dworkin said. Teachers can’t just dive into math and reading without checking in to see how students are doing socially and emotionally, he said. The challenges are amplified in schools with high concentrations of Black and Hispanic students, who have been hit hardest during the pandemic, he noted.
Schools may need to have counselors and social workers available during summer school to help students who are having problems, Dworkin said. Teachers and students may be eager to get back to normal, he said, but it’s important to remember that they haven’t been through a normal experience.
Many school leaders who have spent the past year managing a crisis have had to scramble to put summer learning programs together, with just weeks left before the end of the school year. But districts have three years to spend their stimulus money, which allows leaders to think about summer learning programs as multi-year commitments, Dworkin said. He’d like to see more districts build summer school into the year-round planning they do for the rest of the school year. With a year to plan, districts ought to be able to offer stronger programs next summer, he said.