New and different summer programs aim to tackle COVID learning loss

For many schools and students, summer is now a time to catch up on missed learnings during school years marked by a changing education landscape during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some districts in Allegheny County have created summer programs in response to pandemic learning loss, while others have adjusted existing efforts.

The Duquesne City School District, for example, has set up new day camps to combat the effects of COVID-19 on education.

“There’s a lot of learning loss that’s happened over the years,” director Eric Harper said. “It’s our effort to kind of bridge that gap.”

“There has been a decline in early childhood enrollment and families [are] not sending their kids to pre-K because of COVID,” added Jamie Schmidt, Director of Program and Instruction at Duquesne. “So we want to be able to fill those gaps before those students get to kindergarten.”

Attending kindergarten is key to helping children develop their literacy, language and math skills, and the progress preschoolers make can have a lasting impact throughout their elementary school years, according to the report. ‘Urban Child Institute.

In recent pandemic school years, American students in grades 3 through 8 have seen significant declines in math and reading test scores, with the disparities magnified by poverty. The districts hope the summer school can be the key to reversing this trend.

Pittsburgh: Safety, without staffing shortages

Summer School has changed significantly, with in-person programs focusing on safety measures to ensure children have a pleasant and comfortable experience.

“We have continued and planned to do things according to COVID rules and regulations for our district, including following CDC guidelines,” said Sydni Mundy, after-school and summer program manager for public schools. of Pittsburgh. [PPS].

Mundy said the district plans to have students wear masks and social distance during its summer programs. A COVID task force and COVID manager will coordinate camp security strategies.

“We are working on how we can adapt in case we hit certain COVID numbers, and how we need to work and pivot to be able to run the program after that,” she said.

Mundy works on the PPS BOOST program, which aims to help K-7 students stem summer learning loss and improve the lessons they received during the school year.

Last summer, BOOST suffered from a staff shortage, so the district had to cut students from the program. Mundy said the district has taken steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“We intentionally worked to make sure we were on the ball earlier this year,” she said, adding that the district has taken steps to ensure it has reliable staff. and proficient in each building for the program.

BOOST has two academic blocks in the morning, including English and Mathematics. This is followed by social and emotional learning, followed by two one-hour enrichment blocks – such as kayaking, healthy cooking or African drumming and dancing lessons.

The BOOST program also includes programs at three schools that cater to students with special needs – Pittsburgh Conroy, Pittsburgh Oliver Citywide Academy and Pittsburgh Pioneer.

Pittsburgh Oliver Citywide Academy in Perry South. (Photo by Clare Sheedy/PublicSource)

“We have a special education coach who is part of this team to help identify students who have IEPs. [individualized education plans] and then we’re able to make changes to those students,” Mundy said. “We can create a regional classroom for students with IEPs so they can focus and have smaller classes based on their needs.”

BOOST has been around for 10 years and is free thanks to state grants and other sources. It runs July 5-29 and will take place in Pittsburgh Arlington, Pittsburgh Conroy, Pittsburgh Langley, Pittsburgh Obama, Pittsburgh Oliver Citywide Academy and Pittsburgh Pioneer.

The regular application window closed on May 13, but there is a waiting list for those still interested.

Woodland Hills: Teaching through play

Woodland Hills Opportunity Camp [WHOC] is entering its second year. Tamika McGee, camp coordinator for the WHO, said enrollment last year was around 200 students, with an average attendance of 175.

“It was very successful last year,” McGee said. “The children were exposed to a lot of reading material, doing some of the math concepts they had learned the previous year.”

This summer, the camp will welcome approximately 300 students, from kindergarten to grade 5, with a growing waiting list.

A playground at Turtle Creek Elementary STEAM Academy in Turtle Creek. (Photo by Clare Sheedy/PublicSource)

The program is scheduled to begin July 5 and end August 5 and will take place at Turtle Creek Elementary STEAM Academy. The program is free for students, including transportation, breakfast, and lunch.

“We have a strong focus on reading and writing during the academic block, and we incorporate math in the form of games,” McGee said.

Reading materials can help families continue the process at home.

“Every book that students read in class is sent home with them to be added to their personal library,” she said. “Parents can read and continue the classroom discussion with their children, strengthening the bond between home and school.”

This year, WHO has 15 community partners who will present different activities for students. Partners include the Allegheny Land Trust, the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Student Conservation Association. There is no official deadline for applications. McGee said the roster will be assessed during the first week of camp and will likely be closed thereafter. There is a waiting list form.

Duquesne: New camp… with LEGO robotics

According to The State of Preschool 2021 report by Rutgers University Graduate School of Education’s National Institute for Early Education Research, Pennsylvania saw a 2.4% decline in preschool enrollment for 3-year-olds from 2019-2020 to 2020- 2021, and a 3.6% decrease in school enrollment for 4-year-olds. Statewide, only 19 percent of 4-year-olds were enrolled in pre-kindergarten in the past year.

In part to address low pre-K attendance, the Duquesne District is hosting a set of three summer programs, all for the first time.

The first, Camp Accelerate, took place in June. The other two, which take place in July, are the Kindergarten Readiness Camp and the LEGO League.

LEGO League incorporates coding and robotics for grades 4-7, while Kindergarten Readiness Camp provides kindergartners with the tools to prepare for kindergarten in the fall. All camps will be held at Duquesne Elementary School.

Duquesne also has a specialized program, called the Extended Year Program for students who qualify with IEPs.

IAU: following the virtual path

Some programs only offer virtual options to students. The Allegheny Intermediate Unit [AIU]an agency that provides programs for students in county school districts outside of Pittsburgh proper, is offering two programs this summer: Robotify Virtual Summer Coding Camp and Waterfront Learning Summer School.

Robotify is for students entering grades 3-5 and has four sessions, with the last ending on August 4. Students will learn basic coding and work on activities to help them develop more advanced skills.

Waterfront includes four programs for students. Enrich, Explore, Recover Now! and the Elementary and Middle School Summer Bridge. The Enrich program is for students in grades 6-12 who want to advance their studies to take a full year of classes during the summer. Explore is for students in grades 9-12 who want to explore career options before diving into an area of ​​interest in college. Collect now! helps students in grades 6-12 who need to repeat a lesson. The Summer Bridge for Elementary and Middle Schools is for students in grades 1-8 who want to prepare for the new school year.

Jennifer Beagan, IAU’s senior program director for teaching and learning, said that in addition to being virtual, the classes are asynchronous.

Whether students participate in person or online, districts hope their summer offerings will result in less learning loss for students and a smoother start to the fall school year.

Emily Sauchelli is an editorial intern at PublicSource. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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