Anchorage School District looks at robust summer school plans for students to catch up

Published: Feb. 18, 2021 at 4:38 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As fresh, falling snow dusted the parking lot at Creekside Park Elementary School, kindergarten teacher Kelley Carpenter welcomed her students to school and reminded everyone to get a squirt of hand sanitizer.

“This is awesome,” Carpenter said when asked what it was like to be back to teaching students in the classroom.

Parents like Caitlin Davis, who has a second grade student at Creekside, agreed.

“She’s just happy to be back at school,” Davis said of her daughter. ”And I’m just glad I can send her back. She was doing OK with the remote learning, but she’s just happy to have her friends back and to see her teacher and talk to her.”

Now that students are back, teachers are evaluating how everyone is doing academically after learning online for almost a year.

In a school year when learning has become unpredictable, with kids Zooming back and forth during remote classes, summer is likely to take on a different role this year— one of intense recovery.

The Anchorage School District is in the process of creating a robust summer school program that officials expect most students will be part of, in some way, during the summer months saying students are far behind where they should be, academically.

“It’s not fine. So there has been a loss because that direct instruction time is what our staff are highly trained to do, what they do very effectively, so I know there is significant loss. I know we have students who are not at the point where they would be had there not been a pandemic,” said Dan Barker, the district’s senior director of elementary education.

ASD will release more information about summer school after spring break, when middle school and high school students are scheduled to return to in-person learning.

“We are currently, right now, in the early stages of our planning for what will be very significant summer school opportunities for families,” Barker said.

Times and dates aren’t locked in yet, but most classes will focus heavily on language arts and math. Barker says coronavirus relief money will be used to fund summer school.

Barker says the district understands how important off-time is during the summer for students and their families, but still, he says, students must rise to where they should be academically.

“We’re talking about nearly a year of an absence of instruction and although we have staff who worked like crazy and did amazing things with the limitations they had, for our young learners, it’s a really a small portion of that group, who are anything close to even reasonably successful in a digital learning environment,” Barker said.

Students in ASD left for spring break last year and then never went back. The school year was filled with unprecedented challenges and burdened by the limitations of remote learning. Across the country, this has led to concerns about equity between students, in particular ones from economically disadvantaged homes.

“At home, all the families didn’t have the same resources, they didn’t have the same time or space to do the learning,” Carpenter said. “And now they come here and we have ‘the haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ and that’s my biggest challenge is getting everybody where they need to be and meeting all their individual learning needs.”

States such as North Carolina and Colorado are also looking at expanding school years or increasing summer school opportunities.

“A lot of concern from my instructional staff right now about doing what we can to determine what was the opportunity lost, right? How much of an impact was there from the absence for almost 10 months of face-to-face instruction,” Barker said.

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