After a year of lost learning, summer courses are swelling


COVINGTON, Louisiana (AP) – For the past few weeks, after morning football practice, Stephanie Sinclair’s son Evan has been working hard on his computer, striving for a passing grade in government.

The past year has been a struggle for Evan, a ninth grader at Slidell High, especially during the first trimester blended learning, his mother said. Evan is one of many students who have signed up for virtual summer courses in St. Tammany Parish, either to take things to the next level or to take back classes they didn’t take the previous school year.

“This whole first half has been really tough, especially these first nine weeks,” Sinclair said. “I’m really glad they offered this opportunity.

Although the class is at his own pace, Evan’s summer school teacher talks to Sinclair about his progress daily.

As students make up for more than a year of learning losses related to the pandemic, summer school enrollment has increased in St. Tammany Parish. In high school, enrollment has increased by more than 215%, from 461 students last summer to 1,457 this summer, according to school district statistics.

For elementary school students, summer school registrations have increased by more than 300%, from 158 students to 634, according to statistics.

Fluctuations in summer school enrollment from year to year are normal, said Mary Hart, the elementary education supervisor who oversees summer programming for the St. Tammany Parish School District. But the increase in numbers this year was likely due to a combination of factors stemming from the pandemic, she said.

Some students entered this last school year already behind the three-month gap in spring 2020 when schools abruptly closed and teachers rushed to switch to online learning. Additionally, quarantine policies during the pandemic caused students to miss days at a time when they had been potentially infected or were themselves ill.

“We are trying to get these students to graduation, and we didn’t want anything that has happened in the past year to hinder them, so we want to give them every chance,” said Superintendent of Schools Frank Jabbia at the school board Thursday as he shared the number of participants in the summer programs.

This year, the summer session for elementary and secondary students was offered virtually. Students are expected to spend four hours a day in front of their computers and complete work at their own pace, but teachers track their work time and progress and are available virtually for questions.

In December, Congress approved $ 1.2 billion in federal aid for Louisiana schools, including $ 28.5 million for the parish of St. Tammany. Districts received half of federal aid in June and the rest will be available to be spent in January 2022.

The state’s Department of Education has asked districts to use the funds to make up for learning losses suffered during the pandemic, said Meredith Mendez, spokesperson for St. Tammany Schools. Some of the money was used to fund the Accelerated Learning Camp, a new program for students in kindergarten to grade eight, she said.

About 3,000 students with learning disabilities were selected by their schools for the camp, which took place over two two-week sessions. Among the selected students, 1,412 students participated.

Teachers and students seemed to enjoy the camp, said Hart, which combined academics and activities. They received visits from agricultural teachers, dance teams, the Starlab portable planetarium and others.

“We wanted it to be fun so they didn’t feel like they were in school seven hours a day,” she said.

Enrollment in Accelerate Learning was optional, said Kimberly Gardner, St. Tammany’s assistant superintendent for special education and federal programs. It offered students a chance to familiarize themselves with the material for their next school year, Gardner said. For example, new grade one students would learn grade one material to give them a boost for the upcoming school year.

We understand and know that the learning loss has occurred, ”Gardner said. “We are scaling up responses and accelerating learning opportunities so that we can quickly fill in the gaps caused by the pandemic.”

St. Tammany isn’t the only school district in the area to see a surge of summer school students.

In New Orleans, more than 13,000 students – triple the typical number – were enrolled in some summer school, NOLA Public Schools said in May.

Jefferson Parish ran a three-week program in June called “Jefferson Summer Bridge,” which offered all-day instruction to selected students with a focus on math and English. The parish planned to enroll 6,000 students in the program.

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