As another pandemic-affected school year comes to an end, administrators are hoping expanded summer school options with more in-person instruction than the spring semester can help to make up what’s been lost for some students in the past year.
Officials in both Prince William County and Manassas said they wouldn’t know how many students either opt in for summer learning or need it for credit recovery until the end of the spring semester, but the county will have more summer sites open than in a typical year.
Administrators in both systems expect more students than usual will be behind on at least some important academic skills. At the end of 2020, before county students could return to in-person learning, testing showed a drop in reading proficiency across elementary schools. And during the fall semester, the system saw a dramatic increase in the number of students failing two or more classes at the high school level.
The basic premise of summer school will remain the same this year: For elementary and middle schoolers, it’s mostly about getting up to speed in terms of reading and then mathematics, as those two subjects build on each other from year to year and reading skills are necessary to keep up with other subjects. For high schoolers, it’s about “credit recovery,” or securing credits in subjects that a student may have failed in order to stay on track for graduation.
The scale will be bigger though. Dara Dugger, the county school system’s director of student management and alternative programs, said that in a typical year about 15 elementary school sites and five middle school sites are open for the summer. This year, there will be 22 elementary sites and seven middle, with one high school operating for credit recovery.
“Based on everything that’s going on we figured there’d be more [students] than usual, but we’re really not sure. We just know it’s open to anyone and everyone who needs assistance, and that’s what we’re preparing ourselves for,” Dugger told InsideNoVa.
Summer school in the county will feel different in another significant way: All levels will have students in the classroom five days a week. Families of kindergarten through eighth-grade students who may need additional instruction will be contacted directly by their schools, but all who feel they need to catch up can attend.
In Manassas, kindergarten through eighth-grade students who attend summer school will be in the classroom five days a week, a departure from the hybrid learning the system is currently using. Still, as with the current spring semester, high schoolers will be attending virtually, although SOL “boot camps” to prepare students for their standardized tests will be held in person.
Manassas schools are working on a plan for all levels to return to classrooms full time come fall, details of which should be finalized at the city’s school board meeting next week. The Prince William School Board was set to discuss the county’s plans for five-day-a-week in-person learning in the fall at its meeting Wednesday night.
“We anticipate that some of our students will have new or widened instructional gaps,” said Melissa Saunders, director of student achievement for Manassas schools. “When they’re back in person, there will be some opportunity for teachers to assess and look at the data that we may or may not have on those students and try to figure out how to pinpoint what it is that the student needs to have.”
In crafting the plan for fully reopening the city’s schools next fall, administrators acknowledge that the full scale of how much needs to be made up won’t be fully understood until all students are back in the classroom. The division has put together a task force on reopening made up of staff from around the division. It’s focused on math and literacy, “since those skills transcend other content and build on one another annually,” Saunders said.
County officials are also planning to address losses that go beyond academic performance and learning during the summer. School counselors and social workers will be attached to every summer school grade, working with students.
For students between kindergarten and eighth grade, a portion of the day is devoted to reading, a portion of the day is devoted to math, and then there’s a social-emotional component of the day.
“We understand that sometimes students, when your confidence isn’t there, your self-esteem, things that you’re going through … impact your ability to learn. So we want to make sure that we’re not only just saying, ‘Do your math, read these books,’” Dugger said.
“There are various lessons counselors and social workers will provide, a range from making friends, how do you have conversations about your goals,” she added. “And for the little ones that might be just an opportunity to talk about a topic that’s near and dear to them and maybe relating to another student, just so that you have a connection with someone else because we haven’t been able to do much of that.”