This Year Summer School Is For Almost Everybody
As educators rack their brains for ways to make up for unfinished learning, many have embraced a simple answer — add more class time.
School leaders in New Orleans have expanded summer instruction and capacity, in some cases giving all of their students access to an extra month of in-person instruction.
While many of the city’s charter schools have offered some form of summer recovery in the past, this year’s programs are far more extensive. Some of the city’s largest charter management organizations are offering full-day instruction for all elementary and middle school students. Like most aspects of the city’s all-charter system, summer learning is not centralized and programming varies across schools.
Jenni Seckel, KIPP’s summer school director and the principal at KIPP Leadership Primary, said offering extensive summer programming this year felt like the “morally right thing to do.”
“We want to make sure kids are getting academic instruction as much as they can and that we’re minimizing any amount of learning loss,” she said.
Across KIPP’s five lower-level campuses, 1,400 students in kindergarten through eighth grade had registered a few days ahead of the deadline, Seckel said. She expects over 40 percent of students at her school to attend.
In addition to KIPP, some of the city’s other big charter operators, InspireNOLA Charter Schools, FirstLine Schools and Einstein Charter Schools, are offering similar programs. Nearly 1,600 students were registered for InspireNOLA's program as of Friday morning.
While large charters are more likely to have the resources necessary to offer summer learning to everybody, smaller organizations have had to take a more targeted approach.
Success at Thurgood Marshall, a standalone school, expanded its summer program this year to accommodate 30 percent of its roughly 400 students, according to the school’s executive director, Adam Meinig.
“For the on-campus in-person learning, we are specifically trying to make sure that that's available for the students who lost the most learning time during the course of the year and have had the highest level of need for intervention,” Meinig said.
The school is looking at several data points to determine which students should have first access to the three-and-a-half-week program, including attendance rate, GPA and test scores. Meinig said all students will have access to online learning in the form of asynchronous activities and frequent staff check-ins.
ARISE Schools, which operates two sites, is taking a similar approach, according to Kiril Johnson, executive director of finances and operations.
Roughly 200 students have been selected for in-person instruction this summer based on data from the school year, Johnson said in an email. The remaining students have access to virtual learning through Edgenuity.
All of the school leaders interviewed by New Orleans Public Radio said the decision to expand summer learning was complicated by funding. Many schools have suffered financially this year due to increased operating costs and drops in enrollment. The city’s public schools are partially funded by the tourism industry and long-term financial impacts are projected.
The federal government has made a significant amount of relief money available, most recently through the American Rescue Plan Act, sending more than $2 billion to Louisiana schools.
While the relief has been largely framed as a windfall, Orleans Parish School Board President Ethan Ashley cautioned in an interview with New Orleans Public Radio that the money will likely fail to have a transformative affect on the city’s schools.
“I can't tell you whether or not our system is actually receiving money that's going to put us in a better position or just simply make us whole,” Ashley said.
Patrick Dobard, the chief executive officer of the nonprofit New Schools for New Orleans, agreed.
“We have not had a significant pay raise for teachers, we have an antiquated school funding system and the tax system is not robust,” Dobard said. “You're not going to make up for 30 years or even more of systemic funding inequities.”
Dobard, a former superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School District, said his organization pivoted resources several months ago to help fund summer instruction after they realized some school leaders were afraid to use new money from the federal government.
“When you're a small one school network that has an appropriate fund balance you tend to wait until you're absolutely certain how you can use federal dollars because you don't want to get an audit finding or anything like that,” Dobard said.
Since then, schools have received additional spending guidance and appear to be more comfortable spending money from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Meinig, with Success at Thurgood Marshall, said the school plans to fund summer learning with a $20,000 grant from Dobard’s organization as well as with money from the American Rescue Plan Act. The school is set to receive $2 million, according to estimates from the Louisiana Department of Education.
Several schools also told New Orleans Public Radio they intend to use money from another federal program, 21st Century Community Learning Centers, to fund summer school this year.
The initiative is the only federal funding source dedicated exclusively to supporting local summer learning (as well as afterschool and before-school programs) for students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools.
Grant Proposals Show Plans To Triple Summer School Enrollment
Dobard said he expects the number of students attending summer school to triple this year, from 4,000 to 12,000, based on the 72 grant proposals his organization reviewed.
Accepted applications had to meet two conditions: Provide students with transportation to and from the school and be able to draw a “throughline” between summer offerings and the skills students need to be successful in the classroom.
All of the proposals were accepted and the 72 schools received a combined $1.5 million in funds. Individual grants ranged from $15,000 to $30,000 per school, according to Dobard.
Many of this year’s programs have a summer-camp feel and most don’t use the word “school” when marketing them to parents. Instead, flyers contain the words “experience” and “academy.”
Some schools are working with outside organizations to provide students with new enrichment experiences and field trips. Bricolage Academy is launching a partnership with the National Society of Black Engineers and ARISE Schools are working with the nonprofit STEM NOLA.
At KIPP, Seckel said they’re balancing math and literacy intervention with music and art classes.
“One of the biggest things that has gotten lost to the pandemic is all of the enrichment courses that schools usually offer,” she said.
Classes like band and theater were put on hold at many schools this year. At the time, the situation seemed ripe for COVID-19 spread.
Each school has a three-week curriculum focused on a different aspect of New Orleans culture that allows teachers to link reading assignments to arts and crafts and song and dance.
At Seckel’s school the curriculum is focused on the legacy and history of Congo Square and students will wrap the summer by presenting a “mini-musical.”
High Schools Focus On Credit Recovery
Warren Easton Charter High School Assistant Principal Lauren LeDuff said she expects almost 700 students to participate in some form of summer programming, including a month-long credit recovery program, enrichment courses or new student orientation.
The programs themselves aren’t new, but enrollment has skyrocketed. In a typical year, between 150 and 250 students enroll in summer school to make up missing credits. This year LeDuff expects that number to double.
While Warren Easton’s senior class is largely on track to graduate, LeDuff said many juniors and sophomores have fallen behind. The school’s population is still “very much half and half” when it comes to students learning in-person versus online.
“We have kids who have only stepped foot in our buildings once this year and that was for LEAP testing,” she said. “That was the only time that they were required to come to school.”
In addition to getting students on campus this summer, Warren Easton is also starting the school year early. Teachers will return in late July and students in early August.
LeDuff said the decision generated some pushback from burnt-out teachers, who saw their vacation shrinking, and made staffing summer classes more challenging. The school considered hiring temporary employees but ultimately decided it would be better for students to work with their usual teachers. So they offered current staff a summer pay bump from $35 an hour to $50. At that point, “a lot of people started to apply,” LeDuff said.
While many high schools are prepared to provide credit recovery in-house, Educators for Quality Alternatives is offering all New Orleans students access to its summer semester.
The charter management organization operates three high schools geared toward non-traditional students that are open year-round.
“We have some capacity over the summer and we know that it’s going to be a huge need,” Elizabeth Ostberg, the organization's co-founder and executive director, said.
The decision to open seats up to outside students, who would join them for the summer and could then transition back to their own high school, is due to a drop in enrollment, Ostberg said.
“Our students are the most vulnerable to begin with, so when you put the pandemic on top of that, despite the many, many things we did to hold on to them, it was harder to keep as many of them enrolled in school and get as many students back,” she said.
It’s unclear how many students across the entire school district have dropped out of the system completely since the pandemic began. The number of chronically absent students has been higher this year and individual guidance counselors have highlighted instances in which some have fallen completely off the map.
The hope among educators is that students who have dropped out will come back in the summer or fall and that attendance will improve as more students return to in-person instruction.
Between 20 and 30 percent of elementary and middle school students are still learning online by choice as well as 40 to 50 percent of high school students.
“It's a bit scary to think that there are so many kids that have been out of school,” Dobard said. “Hopefully [summer learning] will be an opportunity to get them re-engaged. It's a less stressful environment to get them back acclimated to being in a school setting and then hopefully get them back in school in the fall.”