Last spring we looked at the summer with the hope that the 2021-2022 school year will be different, easier, better. In many ways this was the case. Pupils returned to their school buildings, we had months of lower COVID rates, and some of children’s favorite learning strategies – such as group projects, stations and flexible seating – were back.
The rest of this school year was harder. Earlier this year, American pediatricians and U.S. Surgeon General declared the mental health of youth a state of emergency in the country. We are in the middle historical teachers and substitutes lack. COVID remains, and students are still sick or going to school for fear of contracting the virus.
Many students and staff are just limping until the last day of this school year. The cumulative effects of two years of pandemic life have caught up, and the consequences are more obvious than ever, from mental health problems to anxious student behavior, to pure burnout and exhaustion. It was also the year when schools became the center Cultural Wars of America—At the same time, teachers are regularly accused and reported for them teaching topics that separate, violation of parental rightsand – most recently – labeled as “Groomers” and accused of pedophilia.
Now that summer is almost here, district and school teams are making final plans of what to do with students on vacation. According to the Center for the Transformation of Public Education, more than half of the counties plan to use federal dollars for recovery to support summer programs. In addition to the loss of education – or what some now call “unfinished learning” – these decision-makers need to consider the long-term recovery needs and realities of students and staff. For many last summer was focused on lost learning; this summer should focus on making sure children are ready and healthy when next year begins.
Thanks to the Primary and Secondary School Relief Fund (ESSER), schools have the additional resources and flexibility to offer all kinds of summer tuition. Last year, ESSER dollars pushed for an innovative partnership between districts and communities that offered much more than a “summer school”. In places like San Diego and Santa Feschool districts worked alongside youth programs and museums to offer an experience more reminiscent of summer camp.
To understand which schools should prefer in their summer planning, I turned to some of the most innovative and favorite summer curricula to ask them what they are focused on in the coming months. All three are different in design, but this summer they have five common priorities: to give children learning options that (1) are not like school, (2) focus on healthy relationships, (3) provide voice and choice, (4) joyful and cheerful, (5) capable of accumulating energy and replenishing supplies. Here are some of the most innovative programs available today.
Ready, set, summer
Last year, Tulsa initiated a joint effort by Tulsa Public Schools and the “Ready, Set, Summer” “Ready, Set, Summer” Opportunity project to offer summer learning opportunities to all Tulsa public school students. Almost every school had its own program that offered children enrichment and acceleration classes, with an emphasis on joyful learning rather than learning.
This year, 21 schools in the city are hosting “Ready, Prepared, Summer” offering all-day public school summer programs for all day and week under the guidance of certified teachers, youth workers and assistants. As Jalsica Goodman, director of public education at Tulsa Public Schools, told me, “Ready, Ready, Summer” gives students many ways to learn in fun and innovative ways. Proof of their success are the numbers. Jessica shared that some summer sites are already filled, and many teachers said they are excited to be back in the program. According to staff surveys, last summer was a “full cup”, a favorite summer for teachers and a much-needed opportunity to enjoy students and the school community.
Further west, RESCHOOL Colorado for nearly a decade has been approaching summer learning and off-school programming in a new and different way. Instead of opening schools as summer learning centers, RESCHOOL distributes “learning dollars” directly to children and families, allowing them to access and afford any learning opportunities they want.
According to founding CEO Amy Anderson, last summer RESCHOOL donated $ 400,000 directly to 800 young people ($ 500 each). Among the many experiences the children enjoyed, one of the most powerful was the collective learning experience. Amy told me about a group of high school students from Denver who decided to take the time to learn to cook together because each of them started cooking more at home to help their working parents during the pandemic. RESCHOOL provided the group with $ 1,000 who paid for a subscription to the food delivery service and the opportunity to scale with each other to enjoy shared culinary activities.
Live Oak Camp
The New Orleans Live Oak Wilderness Camp is preparing for its eighth summer vacation. This unique camp model is deliberately designed to bring together children from different parts of New Orleans for an equalizing summer camp experience. After the summer, vacationers stay in touch through citywide year-round events.
As program director Lucy Scholz explained, the camp provides children with an independent and formative experience where children are given choice, freedom, independence, and ample opportunities to build relationships with other children similar to them or different from them. Most of all, the camp encourages a collective community where children are free to be themselves. After last year of community division, cultural wars and prolonged hardships and losses, the camps give children much-needed opportunities to develop social skills, nurture relationships with people who are different from them, and simply enjoy childhood.
Because educators set priorities and structure for the “summer school,” it’s easiest to do what was done last year. But it’s best to focus on the needs of staff and students and design from there.
Live Oak, RESCHOOL and Ready, Set, Summer highlight three different ways to meet students ’learning and development needs this summer. These examples also show that schools cannot and should not do this work alone. Partnerships with summer programs and extracurricular providers will allow you to distribute the workload, better provide quality programming and adequate staffing, and give students and staff the experience they need to grow this summer and be ready and healthy for the next school year.