Boulder Valley’s elementary and middle school summer learning program is going to look a lot different this year.
With no end in sight for social distancing guidelines amid the coronavirus, the district is keeping the program going, but moving it online and switching from a STEM enrichment model to one that’s intensively focused on math and literacy.
“We are really wanting to maximize learning and learning experiences for kids,” said Robbyn Fernandez, Boulder Valley area superintendent. “It’s a safety net for students not still learning at the same level as they were before.”
School districts around the state are grappling with how to handle summer programs for students, especially programs designed to help struggling students catch up — or, at least, not lose ground — over the summer months.
The switch to in-person learning with school buildings shuttered means academic gaps for already-vulnerable students likely will widen. At the same time, social distancing requirements are likely to extend through the summer, preventing traditional, in-person programs.
St. Vrain Valley School District officials decided to cancel Project Launch, an extended school year literacy program for early elementary students. Instead, they plan to use the money budgeted for summer for an intensive afterschool program that would start when in-person learning resumes, likely in the fall.
Project Launch, which debuted last summer, was a month-long, full-day program with intensive literacy instruction for 1,800 students. Students were taught in small groups by about 200 teachers.
Jackie Kapushion, St. Vrain deputy superintendent, said the district considered both safety and the ability to meet program objectives.
The program is based on direct interaction with students, she said, while maintaining social distancing with young students would be difficult. So would figuring out how to safely bus students to school sites under the guidelines.
She said moving the program online also would have been challenging, given that teachers employ multisensory approaches, including using tactile materials, to reinforce literacy skills.
“It’s just a less robust experience,” she said.
While there won’t be a formal program, elementary families who checked out iPads from the district for remote learning will be allowed to keep them to access online enrichment activities during the summer.
Kapushion said the district is compiling a list of educational resources for parents, while students can access hundreds of books on their iPads through the district’s online library. The district also plans to take its mobile Innovation Lab to neighborhoods and lunch distribution sites to provide paper activities during the summer.
“One thing families can do that’s really, really helpful is just to read with their children every day,” Kapushion said. “That everyday practice can really strengthen skills.”
Other summer programs make more sense to offer virtually, she said.
One of those is the Innovation Academy, a two-week summer STEM program for first through sixth graders, is a collaboration between the school district and IBM.
While the in-person program is usually limited to eight students from each school chosen by teachers, the online program will be offered to all students who will be entering first through sixth grade in the fall. Tuition for the program is on a sliding scale, based on free and reduced lunch status.
The district’s Innovation Center also plans to offer a limited number of online summer camps featuring science, technology, engineering, art and math.
Some programs for older students have been pushed back to August, in the hope smaller, in-person groups will be possible by then. Those include an algebra summer class for incoming ninth graders, as well as fifth- to sixth-grade transition and eighth- to ninth-grade transition programs.
“We will miss our students this summer,” Kapushion said. “We look forward to the day we can have them back. We will put in place all the things we can, as soon as we can open those activities back up in a more face-to-face environment.”
Both St. Vrain and Boulder Valley plan to provide online versions of their extended school year programs for qualifying special education students, as well as online credit recovery classes for high school students.
For Boulder Valley’s online K-8 summer program, the plan is to use a small group format, with students who need the most support attending up to four of the half-hour sessions each day. The online program is expected to cost $482,000, about half of what the district spent on its in-person program, but also bring in significantly less tuition revenue to offset the costs.
The sessions will look similar to in-person literacy groups, with a mix of teacher whole group instruction and independent practice as the teacher works one-on-one with students.
“These classes will be focused on knowledge and skill deficit,” Fernandez said. “We want to use the same materials and strategies we’ve used all along. We know the students need more time. We don’t want to do something completely unconnected.”
Along with students the district was already planning to invite to the summer program, she said, teachers are working to determine if other students have slipped behind during remote learning and could benefit.
“We want to scoop up as many kids as we can,” she said.