With her three teenagers vaccinated against COVID-19, Aja Purnell-Mitchell left it up to them to decide whether to go back to school during summer break. The decision was unanimous: summer school. Across the United States, students are heading into classrooms to make up for a year-plus of disrupted—and unmotivating—education.
Under the most recent federal pandemic relief package, the Biden administration is requiring states to devote some of the billions of dollars to summer programs.
And many students are lining up to attend. The U.S. Education Department says it’s too early to know how many will sign up. But most experts believe the number will surpass the estimated three million-plus who went to summer school in 2019.
In Montgomery, Alabama, more than 12,000 students signed up before the June 1 deadline. Typically about 2,500 go to summer school. Philadelphia had enrolled 14,700 by last Friday and was expecting more. That’s up from 9,300 students in last summer’s all-virtual sessions.
“It’s an understatement to say the needs are greater this year,” says Kalman Hettleman, an education policy analyst.
Las Vegas high school freshman Taylor Dennington never thought she would be in summer school. Yet she started this past week—along with plenty of friends—after a year of remote learning.
“This year was such an unmotivating school year,” she says. “It got to the point where I wasn’t doing ANY work. I was just going to class,” Dennington, who is taking biology and math, says. “I learn better in school than online. Being in a classroom where a teacher is present is so much better than waiting hours for an email back from your teacher.”
In North Carolina, Purnell-Mitchell’s children will have access to five or six weeks of full-day programs, including activities like sports or music. Districts also will provide transportation and meals, thanks to the influx of federal funds.
Purnell-Mitchell lists her hopes for the session ahead: “getting them back into it, helping them socialize back with their friends, maybe meet some new people, and, of course, pick up the things that they lacked on Zoom,” she says. It will be the first time her children have been in the classroom since the spring of 2020.
The federal government requires school systems to devote some of the federal funds to address COVID-19’s lopsided effect on certain groups, including those whose first language is not English and students from poor families. The care for these groups is a biblical reminder of Proverbs 19:17 for individuals: “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward them for what they have done.” (NIV)
New York City, the nation’s largest school district, with over one million students, is offering summer school to all, not just those falling behind.
Purnell-Mitchell says her children have different reasons for wanting to go to summer school. Kyra, who has autism, missed the one-on-one interaction with teachers that helps her learn. Kyla did well remotely but wasn’t able to make new friends and socialize. Her son, Cartier, says he has had enough time off and was just ready to go back.
“I think it’s going to give them some of the milestone markers that they might have missed and give them a better outlook for going into the doors” in the fall, Purnell-Mitchell says.
“It’s not realistic to think that summer school, no matter how good and intense, will close all the gaps because many of these kids had gaps before the pandemic,” says analyst Hettleman. “But it will help, and it will at least give them a fighting chance.”
In what ways do you agree with the opinions expressed in the article? Will you attend summer school or do any school work over the summer this year? If so, what are your reasons?
(Aja Purnell-Mitchell, second from left, sits with her three children, Cartier, 14, left; Kyra, 15, and Kyla, 13, in Durham, North Carolina, on May 28, 2021. (AP/Gerry Broome)